If Flight had stayed in the air, it would have never left you deflated.
Unfortunately, Director Robert Zemeckis’ Flight soars when it is in the air but gradually dissolves the longer it is on the ground. While some may disagree, this is one of those films that you stay with emotionally, constantly hoping that it gets better than it actually is.
As clearly seen in the previews, Denzel Washington’s attempt to land a mechanically flawed plane by flying it up side down is as stunning as the opening sequence in this year’s spectacular The Dark Knight Rises. Regretfully, while both Thomas Hardy in Dark Knight and Mr. Washington in this case play villains cut out of different cloth, Hardy commands your attention while Washington simply becomes more unlikeable with time.
Additionally, one of the essential components that made the Batman film so wonderful was that Bruce Wayne was able to overcome the public’s view that Batman was nothing more than a rogue. In Flight, Mr. Washington fails to accomplish that end, and is little more than a woefully self-centered alcoholic who is dedicated to hiding the fact that he was intoxicated while flying the crashing plane.
Simply put, Washington’s character, Whip Whitaker, is a thoroughly pathetic character. His marriage ended long before the plane crash, and his hateful relationship with his ex-wife is exceeded only by his abandonment of his teenage son.
His life has devolved into an alcohol and cocaine fueled haze interrupted by the good sense to have casual sex with a beautiful, and shall I say equally drug obsessed, flight attendant played by Katerina Marquez. He is smug and dismissive beyond words, and I couldn’t help but feel that the movie would have gained traction if Washington had died in the crash and the film had simply been a retrospective of his prior life.
I truly don’t mean to sound unduly critical of the accomplished Mr. Washington, as who could question his immense talent. However, he has played basically flawed characters in his most recent films, and it is getting increasingly hard to understand his purpose. He won an Oscar for Training Day (2001), but he was manifestly hateful playing the re-creation of a human hound from hell. In both American Gangster (2007) and this year’s Safe House, he was basically an amoral man where he was too cool to be disliked.
For awhile Flight holds its own through the able assistance of some truly dedicated supporting actors. In particular Kelly Reilly is genuinely compelling playing Nicole, a heroin addict that Washington meets in the hospital while recovering from his injuries. Since Whip loves sex almost as much as alcohol, he immediately seduces her, which allows Nicole to demonstrate that she is far more dedicated to recovery than Whip.
Once again, John Goodman completely steals the film as an incredibly funny drug supplier who has long taken care of Whip’s needs. He is as flamboyant as he is outrageous, and his profound idiocy dominates this movie as much as his comic contribution did in the entertaining Argo.
However, one of the profound weaknesses of this film ironically flows from the fine performances by Bruce Greenwood and the gifted Don Cheadle. Mr. Cheadle is Washington’s lawyer and Mr. Greenwood plays a national union representative. Though they both initially appear to have Washington’s best interest at heart, they morph into unethical con men who view perjury as the necessary price to be paid to succeed. Let me just say that if you really want to see Mr. Cheadle at the top of his game, then hunt down The Guard (2011), Talk to Me (2007) and Hotel Rwanda (2004).
Ironically, what kills this movie is not the crash, but its tragic ending. Without giving it away, Washington gets completely trashed the night before his public hearing by destroying the contents of a mini bar in his hotel room.
Found passed out on the floor the following morning by Cheadle and Greenwood, bleeding from his head after crashing into the toilet, Goodman is called to the scene to restore him to sobriety in one of the most idiotic sequences to appear in an otherwise occasionally interesting film. It is profoundly foolish and completely unbelievable.
Listen, I know that it is almost a sacrilege for even a semi-critic to criticize a Denzel Washington film, but at least you have been forewarned. Even though I adored Melissa Leo in her Oscar nominated role from Frozen River (2008), she is lost here as the government lawyer interrogating Whip at this regrettable hearing. And while one should always keep Mr. Zemeckis in mind during the holiday season for his brilliant creation of the thoroughly fun Polar Express (2004), Flight simply leaves you wondering in the end why you should remotely care that Whip survived a crash that killed others.
After all, those poor passengers were sober.