I need to chime in on Flight, as it’s bound to do well in theaters over this weekend and follows lots of hype by many major critics who I feel are falling asleep at the wheel. It supposedly delivers redemption for the lead character but fails as a memorable drama due to a blatantly mixed message at the center of the movie. Of course Denzel Washington is amazing in his portrayal of Capt. Whip Whitaker. He does some subtle things with the tone of his voice and the muscles in his face playing an alcoholic drug abuser in denial. Few actors achieve this level of sensitivity and drama in this kind of character. However, his performance is hijacked by the director of several recent feature cartoons (Robert Zemeckis) who chooses to glamorize Whip’s state.
When your film’s comic relief is a drug dealer (John Goodman) who never gets his comeuppance, no matter what suffering your main character endures, it will undermine that character’s redemption on a dramatic level. Goodman’s Harling Mays is granted every chance to upstage all of those around him with his walk, talk and the Rolling Stones music that seems to follow him. Despite a sincere performance by Washington, by the end of the two-hour-and-a-quarter movie, I felt gyped. As an effect of showy edits, clichéd pop song choices Flight feels rote and by-the-numbers. I found myself having little sympathy for Washington’s character, which is what one needs for this character to land Washington where many expect to see him at the end of the year: with an Oscar® nomination.
Another undermining factor, beyond the hilarity of his drug dealer pal, is the perceived sexiness of Whip’s cocaine abuse. The film opens with the full-frontal nude curves of his stewardess lover (a gorgeous Nadine Velazquez) pacing around his bed postcoitus, as the two prepare to take their fateful flight. Speaking of the flight, that rises to a different level of on-screen gorgeousness. It’s brilliantly paced all the way through, with edits and even in the rhythm of dialogue. The framing of an array of shots, from tilted lift-off to twirling crash, add to the harrowing “ride” experience until the end. Meanwhile, Washington again scores points for knowing how to play subtle drunk as he crash lands the plane with minimal casualties. But that’s where the film peaks. It even stumbles toward an ending that reeks of committee filmmaking, audience-tested to satisfy the largest demographic possible. It all falls flat culminating in a shrug-worthy, forgettable meh.
Flight is now-playing at wide release. Paramount pictures invited for a preview screening for the purpose of this review.