Oscar winning director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump and the Back to the Future Trilogy) returns to live action with an alcohol addled anti 'hero -complex' antidote to the children's stories he's been crafting into ground-breaking motion capture CGI (The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol). Denzel Washington's Whip Whitaker is a high functioning alcoholic and recreational drug user ... and an airline pilot. When he prevents a mid-air disaster resulting in a miraculous crash landing, he's a hero; but the air crash investigators want answers.
The titular Flight sequence will tattoo the consciousness of those viewers that are nervous fliers. Zemeckis creates such a stifling point of view throughout the mid-air chaos that you feel like you're being rag-dolled in your seat. And knowing the state of the pilot you're only more acutely aware of the knife's edge between survival and a death bathed in jet fuel.
If there's a major criticism to be made it's some of the musical choices that are so categorically obvious that you find yourself taken out of the film. The Red Hot Chilli Peppers 'Under the Bridge' accompanying a sequence featuring an addict mid injection is so obvious this reviewer actually chuckled.
John Gatins’s script is a perfectly tiered descent into the filth and self-abuse of addiction. He torpedoes the protagonist’s story with love lost, solace found, and existential apparitions (in the form of a leukaemia patient played wonderfully by James Badge Dale). The only weakness was Kelly Reilly’s Nicole. Her dark journey is necessary because of how she influences Whip, however in the hands of Zemeckis her character felt slightly like ‘JENNNNNEEEEEYYYYY’ (*Forrest Gump voice).
The strength of Flight is the alluring and affronting performance of Washington. Washington's natural charm and presence is the mask for unabashed alcohol abuse Whip uses to permanently numb his existence. Washington's swan dive toward rock bottom can't be averted and along the way Zemeckis has the bravery to give his star the space to commit to the most believable belligerent drunk ever to grace the screen. The forces trying to right Whip’s course are Don Cheadle, playing the legal defender, and Bruce Greenwood, a confidant and pilot union representative, who both deliver deliberate, honest and compassionate supporting performances. John Goodman's coke dealer (underscored by The Rolling Stones) pops into Flight for mere minutes and essentially steals the film with a character that amalgamates his Walter and The Dude from The Big Lebowski.
As each new chapter of Flight unfolds, you expect it to take a turn toward the generic and schmaltz. Thankfully Zemeckis, Gatins and Washington don’t let up this liberating free-fall to rock-bottom.
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: John Gatins
Starring: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Nadine Velazquez, Bruce Greenwood, John Goodman