Dir. by Robert Zemeckis - 2 hrs. 18 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
I'm not entirely sure how to approach writing about films who's advertising is pretty much a bait-and-switch. Is it entirely fair to hold the promotional materials against a film? Advertising, in it's most basic form, is the art of lying. So should I get mad when it's apparent that I've been lied to? I guess I'm particularly frustrated in this case, because the sort of film that "Flight" actually is is something that I might have been inclined to go see. So at least in my instance, it wasn't even necessary to engage in subterfuge and deception to get me in the theatre, and the needlessness of it kind of sticks in my craw.
What the trailer will tell you is this: Whip Whitman (Denzel Washington) is a very skilled pilot, one who's unorthodox maneuver in the face of an emergency saves 96 lives. But the routine post-crash investigation finds that Whip had some alcohol in his system, which is a no-no. From this point, it's a man vs. the system movie, with Whip trying to preserve his reputation and career in the face of immense pressure from all sides. And John Goodman rolls in and is awesome, although he comes off as a bit of a huckster in the trailer.
In the actual version of "Flight," not the imagined promised version, the very first scene has Whip drunk and in a hotel room with what turns out to be a co-worker, Katerina (Nadine Velazquez). While Whip takes a phone call from his ex-wife, Katerina walks around the room stark naked (no complaints here on that account) for like two full minutes. We learn that Whip is piloting a flight in less than two hours, so he snorts a line of coke to straighten himself out, and heads to the airport. It's then established that he's kind of a functional alcoholic (and at least initially, that has an almost rogue-ish charm), and then his flight turns into a disaster.
What follows over the course of "Flight" has almost nothing to do with the man-vs.-system story promised, and everything to do with watching Whip's self-destructive behavior play out over and over again. Oh sure, there's the obligatory scene of Whip pouring all of his intoxicants down the drain (literally), and he tries to straighten himself out on his own, but as soon as he feels the pressure, he's back on the bottle. At this character's best, he's a wobbly knight on a three-legged horse, but that's just the excuse that keeps Whip from recognizing the awfulness of his own behavior. And in terms of his awful behavior, this is practically pornography. The only thing keeping it from being such is the fact that his violence towards everyone else is strictly verbal, and he seems to get the worse of everything (and it's his own fault, as well). The investigation looms in the background, and comes forth when Whip's lawyer, Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle) shows up from time to time, but let's make no mistake about what "Flight" is: this is an addiction story first and foremost.
Secondly, this movie is all about watching Denzel Washington play a raging asshole. In the trailers, the extent of his addictions and associated behavior is soft-pedaled to the point where you wouldn't be crazy to think you were going to see a movie about a heroic pilot instead of a drunk coke-head. You might think that John Goodman's character, Harling Mays, is some kind of media spin expert instead of his childhood friend, coke-dealer, and general enabler. And I'm being honest, I would go see a movie about a seriously unlikable drunk pilot and his coke-dealing sidekick (especially when played by John Goodman). Maybe a lot of other people wouldn't, but you've got to be honest about the film that you have. Even if it's a film with big stars made by a very famous director (Robert Zemeckis, also responsible for movies like the "Back to the Future" trilogy, "Contact," "Castaway," and "Forrest Gump," being among his highlights), you have to be honest about what exactly it is that you have on your hands.
Instead, I went in kind of expecting a feel-good story and got Cokehead McGee verbally abusing everyone in sight. "Flight" is a decent movie, although I'm kind of baffled by all of the praise it's been receiving. Denzel Washington is very good, but that's not uncommon. There's a kind of a feel-good ending, but this movie might be more accurately described as a romance triangle movie between Whip, the bottle, and Alcoholics Anonymous. And honestly, the "rehab ending" is a complete cop-out, as if these kinds of problems are as solvable as taking an aspirin for your headache. Both John Goodman's and Don Cheadle's roles are minimal, so neither are a good reason to see this film if you weren't already going to. "Flight" is a slickly directed, very well-acted movie about a bunch of people you're probably going to hate by the time you reach the credits. Cheadle's lawyer character is possibly the most likable (if not the most sympathetic) character in the film, which says a lot about "Flight."
2 / 5 - Theatre