A bad title does not maketh a bad movie. That’s the lesson we learn from Flight. Flight follows charismatic pilot Whip Whittaker (Denzel Washington), a womanizer and an alcoholic. After a catastrophic incident mid-flight, he manages to successfully land the commercial airline he was flying and – in turn – save 96 souls onboard. A miracle, they say, with only six people killed in the crash. At first he’s labeled a hero, but as investigations in to what caused the crash begin, Whip goes from legend to liar as his character flaws and addictions come to light.
Flight is essentially a dramatisation of Harvey Dent’s classic line from The Dark Knight: “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” As both the hero and villain Denzel Washington is exceptional, but there are no surprises there. His portrayal is well worth the recent Oscar nomination he’s received. He manages to balance the charisma of some of his more famous roles with the poison of Detective Alonzo Harris in Training Day. And heck, if there’s someone who can play a more entertaining belligerent drunk on screen then Denzel, I’m yet to see it. The supporting cast too are tits: John ‘Very’ Goodman continues his incredible run of incredible performances and steals the three scenes he’s in. After winning the Golden Globe for playing a smarmy lawyer in House Of Lies, Don Cheadle is once again a solicitor (albeit a very clean cut one). Bruce Greenwood, Kelly Reilly and Melissa Leo are also fine.
Director Robert Zemeckis is a man who needs no introduction. To most people he’s the Oscar-winning dude who made Forrest Gump and the Back To The Future flicks. To cinepiles he’s known – at least more recently – as a filmmaker at the forefront of cutting-edge visual effects. This skill is utilised in the extraordinary crash sequence, which peaks in seeing a plane fly upside down. It invokes a “holy shit!” when seen in the trailer and it does the same in the film. It’s one of the tensest openings to a film. Period. He doesn’t rush in the lead up to the impending disaster, instead he focuses on every action, every possible thing that could go wrong. He makes you feel every second of the flight, making it all the more nail biting. No doubt this will replace Snakes On A Plane, Air Force One, The Dark Knight Rises and Final Destination as the anti in-flight movie.
But what Flight reminds you is that Zemeckis is more than a ‘technique’, he’s a storyteller. Sure, this begins with a crash but once the plane hits the ground the rubble never really stops burning in the form of Whip Whittaker whose tale is one of destruction, tragedy and immense sadness. This is no Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, this is no Malcolm X – Whip is an addict in every sense of the word and someone who has reached the bottom of the human condition. Zemeckis tells this story with a tenderness and a maturity that supersedes his other films. He’s assisted greatly by John Gatins: yes, the same guy who wrote Summer Catch and Real Steel is now nominated for a screenwriting Academy Award.
In reality this should be a film called Crash (oh shit, that title is taken – twice). From the epic opening calamity to the downward spiral of its central character, it’s a film about going down in flames, one way or and another. And yet, Flight manages to soar.
Maria Lewis - follow Maria on Twitter here: @moviemazz