Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Flight (2012)

Here’s another film about an airline that nearly comes to a catastrophic end for Overlooked Films, Audio & Video at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom.

Unlike Passengers (2008) which I reviewed in spite of not really understanding the film, Flight was easier to grasp even though the plot was banal.

Captain Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is a commercial pilot who crash lands his Orlando-Atlanta airliner and saves most of the passengers on board. Six people including a stewardess with whom he had drinks, drugs, and sex hours before take off die in the accident that is apparently caused due to a malfunction.

Whitaker is a hero but not for long. He is injured and admitted to a hospital where blood tests show the presence of alcohol and cocaine, which he probably consumed inside the aircraft. With its reputation at stake, the airline company hires lawyer Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle) and union man Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood) to keep Whitaker and the company out of legal trouble. Lang succeeds in pinning the blame on the maintenance company and diverting attention from the seasoned pilot.

While the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the crash, accepts malfunction as the reason behind the accident, it is suspicious of Whitaker’s condition before and after the plane took off. Ellen Block (Melissa Leo) heads the inquiry and grills Whitaker eventually forcing him to listen to his conscience and come out with the truth.

Flight is not so much about Whitaker’s flying skills (in one death defying scene he flies the plane upside-down) or landing the aircraft in relative safety as it is about his alcoholism and denial of his addiction. Everyone knows he needs help, his lawyer and union friend, for instance; Nicole (Kelly Reilly), a post-drug rehab hooker who lives with him for a brief while and vainly tries to get him to enroll for AA; his god-fearing co-pilot Ken Evans (Brian Geraghty) who knows the truth but keeps quiet even though he’ll never walk again; close friend Harling Mays (John Goodman in a weird cameo role) who has an instant cure for a hangover; and even his ex-wife and son.

Towards the end of the film there is a scene that I thought was nicely done. The night before the hearing Whitaker is put up alone in union man Charlie Anderson’s apartment. He must be sober the next morning. There is a small refrigerator in the kitchen. Whitaker opens it, rather gingerly, and finds it stacked with non-alcoholic beverages. He has dinner, watches television, and goes to sleep. Somewhere in the middle of the night, he hears the sound of a door opening and closing. For a moment you think someone is going to jump him from behind and kill him. He enters the room and discovers another fridge, this time stacked with all kinds of alcohol. The next morning he is found in the bathroom, sprawled face down with only his black shorts on, a bloody gash on his head, the apartment in a mess, and forty-five minutes left for the hearing.

Director Robert Zemeckis has portrayed Denzel Washington as a smug and a pathetic character who is too weak to resist temptation, one who doesn't have it in him to stand up and admit he has a problem. I believe real alcoholics are loath to admit their addiction and enter into rehab. It’s hard to like his character even though he redeems himself in the end. As an actor, Washington is cheerless. He has done better. As a film, I liked Flight better than Passengers.

I was pleasantly surprised to read that Robert Zemeckis has directed films in many categories like drama, comedy, sf, romance, and animation; films I've seen and liked such as A Christmas Carol (Jim Carrey), The Polar Express, Cast Away, What Lies Beneath, Contact (Jodie Foster), Forrest Gump, Back to the Future (trilogy), and Romancing the Stone.


  1. Lana and I watched this and thought that Washington's performance was very good. Generally it was enjoyable, although sad in many ways as well.

  2. It sounds like two very different films glued together and there is perhaps somethign overblown about landing the main character with quite so much responsibility if in the end one is only going to make out that it was not in any way his fault. I do like Zemeckis for his technical dexterity though I am always less convinced by his politics!

  3. I do so like Denzel Washington!

  4. Never seen or heard of it. Not one to rush out and acquire, but I'll keep an eye out for it on the small box.

  5. I had this on my radar but after reading your review, Prashant, I think I'll pass. I'm not a big Denzel Washington fan (primarily because a lot of the time I have the feeling he's just going through the motions) so I'll wait for a more upbeat film. I really hadn't read anything about FLIGHT so I guess I thought it was something else all together. As usual, though, I enjoyed reading your take on it.

  6. Nice review, Prashant! I quite like Denzel Washington in most films but FLIGHT plays more like a Hallmark TV movie in its story beats. That early scene with Washington flying the jumbo jet upside down is a real white-knuckler, though. Zemeckis excels at those kinds of action pieces. If you haven't seen his earlier CASTAWAY, Prashant, I highly recommend it, one of Zemeckis' better later period works, with an excellent performance by Tom Hanks and yet another incredible plane crash sequence. As for Washington, I recommend the gritty Tony Scott film MAN ON FIRE and THE MIGHTY QUINN is a fun little murder mystery set in Jamaica.

  7. Very nice and useful review, Prashant. My husband wants to see this, so he is going to watch it first, then maybe he can talk me into watching a movie about a plane crash. I do like Denzel as a actor very, very much, and if they had made the action in any area other than a plane crash, I would be there watching in a minute.

    I am only familiar with the Back to the Future movies by Zemeckis, of the movies you listed. But I also like an early movie he did with Kurt Russell, USED CARS. And I liked WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT and CONTACT.