From acclaimed director Robert Zemeckis comes a very interesting and compelling, if not entirely excellent (and even somewhat of a sleeper hit), drama starring Denzel Washington as an alcohol and cocaine addict pilot named Whip who miraculously saves an out-of-control commercial airliner from complete destruction through an incredible crash landing, initially perceived due to his own flying skills, yet still causing enough destruction to warrant a full scale investigation. Since Whip has a rough past with his addiction, as well as making a few consumption mistakes the very nights and morning previous, the NTSB investigation discovers that mechanical fault may not entirely be the cause, and Whip is then caught between fighting his addiction, righting the wrongs and proving his innocence.
Flight opens intensely, not only partly due to having what could arguably be the most intense and well shot plane crash scene in all of cinema, but primarily with Whip’s unorthodox and vice-ridden lifestyle; rough language, explicit drug use, and full frontal nudity are presented to us within the first five minutes, telling us that this is a serious adult affair which makes no apologies, demanding solemn attention.
After the crash and investigation of our anti-protagonist, at first the audience thinks the answer to the dilemma of the incident is plainly obvious – Whip’s fault for being a drunk pilot, but then issue is shown to have many facets behind the scenes in the pilot’s life, and gradually becomes intriguingly more complex. And this is where Flight truly succeeds – in convincing the audience to feel compassion towards this broken man who despite his alcoholism and drug addiction, makes a valid enough argument towards his “innocence” against the cause of the plane crash; a crash which took the lives of a few people, meanwhile having the extreme potential of killing everyone on board if not for Whip’s genius instincts in the cockpit seat. Still, thankfully enough, a simple court case is not all Flight has to offer, but in fact is only the beginning of what this film truly harbors.
Denzel who plays Whip, unsurprisingly plays, well, Denzel once again yet with a new name. This is not always a bad thing considering that no matter what name he dons, he always gives a mostly bold and straight performance. After the crash scene Denzel slowly begins to fully engulf himself in the character, making it all his own, yet the same cannot be said for the entire cast. Introducing John Goodman as Harley Mays, the comic relief as a slick and wise cracking drug dealer who is Whip’s go-to man for all his cocaine fixes. While visiting Whip in the hospital Goodman feels less like a wise cracking drug dealer and more like John Goodman trying to act like a wise cracking drug dealer. Since he is not a major part of the story this can be overlooked. We also meet two of Whip’s closest companions within the mess, one being the lawyer representing Whip played by Don Cheadle, the other being a former co-pilot who has befriended Whip for many years. The characters bump heads a bit at first but quickly things take their turns and the movie becomes a bit less about the investigation itself and more about Whip’s alcohol addiction.
Whip meets up with a strung out, young and beautiful heroine addict while in the hospital, and soon garners a romantic relationship with her. While this portion of the film does not add anything so much to Denzel’s character, it does do a great job in displaying how his alcoholism works to drive those he cares for away; the list of those neglected include ones in his past, such as his ex-wife and estranged son who holds nothing but contempt for Whip. He strings along in what is nothing more than a drug-ridden life, balancing his binge drinking with his appointments and responsibilities for the airline crash investigation, as well as trying to tie loose ends and clear his name in the events of the crash by those who witnessed his condition that day. Many conflicting and nihilistic emotions engulf Whip while he spends much of the movie as an almost drunk wanderer, lost in self-hate, and it is a wonder that the lawyer and close friend of Whip can still put up with such a person, even if their ultimate intentions are not entirely for Whip himself but for the union they are trying to save. He surely is not making it easy. Even his girlfriend attempts to free herself from her addiction by faithfully attending AA meetings. At one point Whip is forgiven by the co-pilot whose life was ruined due to physical injuries sustained in the crash, yet whose determined christian beliefs call him to pray for Whip; the idea of God’s divine plan and sovereignty in the plane crash is a very subtle running theme throughout the film. This is elaborated by a cancer-striken patient Whip meets who has made it a life goal to no longer try and control something such as random life events that only God can control. And throughout it all Denzel does such an excellent job at portraying this broken character that we begin to see things the way his girlfriend sees them – that beneath the stubborn, strict, angry, and impossible man, there is someone still worth saving, someone we honestly don’t want to see spend the rest of his life in prison, when what happened may not entirely be his fault, despite his condition at the time. It starts as an issue of morals, but then an issue of grace despite morals. So even though Flight begins as a thriller and investigative set of events, it meticulously molds itself into a character study of an alcoholic who intends to recover, yet whose vice is so strong that he has very little control over it. It becomes a story of the power of forgiveness, grace, and the struggles of addiction.
Zemeckis shoots the entire film in a very straight, clear and bold directorial style, not messing with exaggerated establishing or sweeping shots, dramatic fade-ins, overwinded emotional music, etc. Shots are static, strong and clear, granting a cinematic atmosphere to us as the audience to take the events going on seriously. While this style does do well to tell us how to feel about this film, it also has a small tendency to make the pacing feel like another by-the-numbers adult drama. Though there are a very small amount of lighter moments (really about two altogether, in scenes including John Goodman), the film could have benefited from a little bit more of them, if only to break up the pacing a bit, as well as avoid some aspects of the “romance” which feel a bit forced and useless, such as the backstory of Whip’s girlfriend which seem to amount to nothing. Another small fault would be in it relevance to people in general, which may not be the film’s fault at all. Being an original adult drama dealing with addiction, in a modern era where R-rated adult dramas are mostly irrelevant, given that movies these days are either based off of old ideas, are reboots, reimaginings, sequels, or simply straight out fantasy films (which may also be either sequels or reimaginings off old books or ideas), Flight may have a hard time finding a bigger audience. This may explain its lack of success at the box office. But again, not the movie’s fault, but may just be an issue of timing of release.
The good news despite this small complaint is that the film’s final act is vehemently climactic, and paves the way for an ending so audacious that I would be willing to bet that out of all the scenarios viewers predict will happen to Whip, 9 out of 10 viewers would not only be wrong, but also surprised, as well as some perhaps tear-driven.
Flight is undoubtedly one of the most intense, courageous, and strongest dramas of 2012. Denzel may do his usual and play just another version of Denzel, but he does it so well that it doesn’t even matter. And though the movie does have a few flaws in its pacing and character presentation in some of the cast, it does little to slow it down.
Three very basic and somewhat brief behind-the-scenes features, which include cast and director/producer interviews. We learn a bit more as to what the ideas were behind the film and how it was written. There is also one public press Q&A session with the entire cast of actors and producers, minus Denzel himself, which is fairly boring and does not give us anything significantly worthwhile. There really is only so much that this film can give us in the extras department due to its lack of relevance to current events.
Graphics and Sound:
The blu-ray visual presentation is just fine. Since this is not a sci-fi or special effects laden story, we mostly get shots of public streets, hospitals, offices and homes. The visuals are clean, but watching this on blu-ray is not going to come near to overwhelming HD fanatics over just watching a standard definition version – EXCEPT of course for the plane crash scene. Still, given the 2 hour and 15 minute length, the majority of the film is your clean and basic HD presentation, which is good enough. In the sound department the film initially suffers from a case of “not loud enough,” which would probably cause people to have to turn up their tv’s to a higher volume, then lower it a bit again when either music or anything loud suddenly happens. Dialogue during the first 45 minutes or so are riddled with an excess of bass, and cause the dialogue of the actors, particularly the deep male ones such as Denzel and Goodman, to be a bit hard to understand. Thankfully as the movie progresses and there is less need for lower tones of conversation, things start to clear themselves up, and we get a good and decent soundtrack of voices, sound effects and music. Visuals and sound do the job well enough, but granted the movie’s themes and plot, there is little need to go the extra mile.
I would definitely consider Flight to be worth of a blu-ray/ DVD purchase, as the film is extremely well done on both technical and directorial fronts, even if imagination or creativity are not valid bullets; given what the movie intends to portray and the way it intends to portray it, it isn’t necessary. The story is great enough to grip its audience and keep their attention all the way through, keeping a standard pace but then picking it up fantastically at the end. Flight gives us a message of hope and redemption even in the most dire of situations of our own life mistakes and messes. Great film. I give this 3.5, um, cute redheads(?) out of 4.