Film Review – Flight

Flight (MA)

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis

Starrig: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Don Cheadle, John Goodman

Four stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Welcome back, Robert Zemeckis! Well, not that he really went anywhere. The prolific director behind classics Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Forrest Gump has been consistently creating films for the last 35 years. He has been a little distracted for the last 12 of them pouring his time and skills into some less than worthy projects – the animated, motion capture films The Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol. Using real actors but pasting over them with CGI has generated strange results – stories have been able to be brought imaginatively to life, which is more than we can say for the dead looking characters. But this guy is all about extracting astounding performances from talented actors Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump and Cast Away), Jodie Foster (Contact) Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future) and Bruce Willis (Death Becomes Her). Thankfully he has put his computer and those little green motion capture balls aside and decided to go back to capturing un-enhanced performances.

Flight, Zemeckis’ first film with humans to appear as themselves since Cast Away (2000), toys with addiction and morality as it explores the plight of a drunk, drugged up pilot who saves the majority of his crew and passengers when the plane’s engine quits mid-flight. As the aircraft nose dives to the ground, Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) flips the plane upside down to even it out before flipping it back up-right and crash landing it in a safer fashion. But was it the pilot’s skill that landed them safely or pure luck, seeing as the radical decision was made by an intoxicated man?

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The act makes Whip a an international hero while the airline and its lawyer (Don Cheadle) work hard to cover up his blood alcohol content in the investigation. Meanwhile, the cocky pilot, who was never compelled to face his alcoholism even when his marriage failed or when it affected his relationship with his teenage son, hits the bottle harder as guilt sets in. The fateful turn of events leads him to meet drug addict Nicole (Kelly Reilly) who is far more interested in cleaning up her act than Whip. The dynamic of the relationship – she struggles to get her life together but it forced to watch her partner descend deeper into addiction hell – is not the main focus of the story (it could have been explored further) but is the heartbreaking centre. These two lost souls have found each other but it is their diseases, or their varying degrees of motivation to change, that keeps them apart.

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Perhaps we are just used to seeing the soulless and creepy looking animated characters in Zemeckis’ last three films, but everything in Flight seems much more emotive, from the direction to the performances. There is heightened drama, and the soundtrack is rather intrusive, but Zemeckis is mostly interested in his lead performer and telling this story of the crippling inner struggle of an alcoholic. Washington also makes a comeback of sorts, tackling his meatiest role in at least five years, and delivering a much deserved Oscar nominated performance. Always solid in his action film choices, he goes the extra mile with this character.

Zemeckis doesn’t do himself any favours by injecting humour into this dramatic struggle (although John Goodman as the comic relief is fabulous); playing it straight would have made for a more effective film. It also goes a bit too far in the final minutes, but his attention to character and his determination to reveal the horrific behaviour of alcoholics and the impact they have on others  is still to be commended. This is some of the most serious stuff he has tackled and he has pulled it off.

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One Response to “Film Review – Flight”

  1. Good review Julian. I liked it because of Washington ‘s amazing performance, and how it didn’t really present me with a story that was all that clear-cut in the first-place. You actually had to think about a lot here on what you consider right, and what you consider wrong.

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