‘Flight’ (2013) may not be a complete disaster.

1 Mar

Flight posterSeemingly inspired by the surprising (and some would say miraculous) emergency plane landing in New York’s Hudson River a few years ago, Flight details the aftermath of a crash landing of a plane en route from Georgia to Atlanta (?). Walt “Whip” Whitaker (Denzel Washington) plays the recovering pilot who managed to keep the death toll to a mere six – not bad in an aircraft filled with 102 people which nosedived at twenty-thousand feet. However, the cap’n was both high as a kite and hungover as hell on a brutal cocktail of Smirnoff, coffee, aspirin and cocaine. As this and other revelations arise, Whitaker must try to clear his name while simultaneously battle his narcotic demons.

I have issues with the trailer: it appears to emphasise the crash and the subsequent trial, which are of course major components of the film. However, at its core Flight is really a poignant and very unhappy movie about addiction. Virtually every character is either a cocaine junkie, a severe alcoholic, a dedicated smoker, a heroin addict or some unpleasant combination of all of these. The movie centres around the destruction and damage caused by these follies – of course the plane crash is an obvious example, but Whitaker ultimately becomes further estranged from his ex-wife, increasingly hated by his son and winds up losing any and all romantic endeavours as a direct result of his drug and alcohol abuse.

As a pessimistic lover of all things miserable, I applaud the movie for being a veritable “fuck you!” to the common blockbuster that panders to a comfortable audience to which the concept of a ‘challenging movie’ is pure anathema to. It raises several very interesting questions which remain unanswered by its conclusion – could Whitaker have saved all 102 souls on board had he been sober? Also, did his narcotic-ridden frame of mind fuel his unconventional decision to fly the plane upside-down while landing? Flight also demonstrates the merit of cocaine-taking on more than one occasion: an impressively risky move on its part. This movie is like a battering ram, pounding on the fortified barricades of the mountain stronghold that is common and generally accepted opinion.

Denzel tends to play the absolute hell out of serious roles like this one, and Flight is no exception. He develops his character into a multi-faceted melting pot of personality types: you have the addict who chugs Jim Beam like a dehydrated desert explorer who just found an oasis, while at the same time he is a highly emotional, loving, friendly and very intelligent man. John Goodman is a slightly tiresome yet entertaining rock and roll coke dealer, while Don Cheadle also deserves special mention; the man has one of the greatest faces of any modern actor, and he plays the stringent, cocky yet accomplished lawyer who endeavours to defend the un-defendable Whitaker. Major props must also be given for its inclusion of glorious amounts of classic rock: The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers all blare.

Denzel Washington looks so badass in shades.

Denzel Washington looks so badass in shades.

While addiction is hardly mainstream, ‘comfortable’ subject matter, the film very much plays it safe with the ending in a way wholly dissimilar to director Robert Zemeckis’ previous live-action output Castaway. Without giving anything away, the movie takes a very schmaltzy and Hollywood-friendly turn that is both negatively unbelievable and entirely at odds with our human realms of logic and reason. By way of an incredibly contrived plot convenience (there ‘just so happened’ to be an open door at just the wrong time), the movie, much like the plane itself, takes a nosedive yet somehow remains relatively intact. The silly ending does not kill the movie, as all that has come before is still satisfying; the viewer doesn’t feel ‘cheated’ by the overt bending of reality.

Perhaps not massively engaging but certainly compelling, Flight is an odd movie in that in manages to be very daring and goes against the grain in many ways in terms of subject matter, yield is tied up by an irritatingly unrealistic ending. Had it gone the opposite way, it would have been heinously unethical yet infinitely more interesting and would have ensured a consistent element of unorthodoxy to the film overall. Definitely recommended.

Simon says: a delightfully uncomfortable movie.

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One Response to “‘Flight’ (2013) may not be a complete disaster.”

  1. CMrok93 March 2, 2013 at 11:30 pm #

    Good review Simon. Although, there are strong performances (especially really liked Kelly Reilly) and an interesting premise, it never quite finds the “story” it wants to tell. Liked it a lot, but couldn’t get to that point where I loved it.

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