Director: Robert Zemeckis
Flight is a strange film – oddly intriguing, rather powerful but unable to fully explain itself. A strange tone, Zemeckis wants to dazzle (as is the way he usually does things) so he seems to be sure that it’s okay to play tragic/horrific moments for slight laughs (John Goodman’s drug-dealer/roadie-type is a great character, he just belongs in another film). And the film needs its premise to hang the hook of its message on – themes about heroes also being broken, about them not being who you think they are, about the baggage of life outside of work – but the film is actually more than one movie jammed into a DVD case that, difficult to market, probably comes across as a popcorn flick. And probably upset a few people that rented it waiting for some end-of-world catastrophe/crash movie. Actually Flight offers a far bigger crash.
Flight is not a plane-crash movie. Nor is it a total car-crash itself. But it does need a plane-crash to happen so that we can explore the pilot’s life, a character named Whip Whitaker – which is a bit desperate in its attempt to give a dazzling gunslinger-type name to a commercial airline pilot. No matter though, really, because Whitaker is expertly played by Denzel Washington; the sort of effort here that reminds you he was great and then got stuck coasting. Here he gives you his all, that wonderful sly arrogance in the grin, a clue that you’re not supposed to like this character but somehow can’t help siding with him; that’s a wonderful trick Washington’s often been able to play.
Whitaker saves the lives of almost the entire plane; he crash-lands in a pretty frightening, brutal, tense, opening set-up. But his own life is crumbing. We’ve had a few clues, we get plenty more.
Flight is almost an action film at times, it’s also a mystery-thriller, and then oddly a dark-comedy.
There are several bits that don’t really fit – the relationship between Whitaker and a recovering junkie doesn’t really work, isn’t really correctly explained beyond the obvious like-meets-like/crutch-needing supposition. But failed shots at redemption permeate the film – and Washington never wastes a moment on screen because he knows his job is to remind you, constantly, that he’s a hero you shouldn’t really cheer for.
This works too, because Washington had too often played the slick, suited and booted type. So this has notes of Training Day, his other, wonderful, later-in-career turn against type.
He does spiritual ugliness wonderfully.
But the film continues to bumble along unsure of how much weight it is supposed to pack.
It’s often grim – and rather brilliant (as a result). But in the end we get the sappiness that the movie tried hard to fight off. We’re reminded that it’s Zemeckis. The man that gave a world that never asked Cast Away and Forest Gump.
There are messages in Flight. There is meaning. There’s plenty to take away from it. But the real reason to watch is for the performance of Denzel Washington.