No We're Not Serving Coffee Now!
You'll probably know Robert Zemeckis through his films such as the Back to the Future trilogy, and of course Forrest Gump. Those films had a feel good quality to them, and created thriving cultural icons. So I guess there's a need to walk down the wild side for a change, and get back in touch with directing real people as opposed to dabbling predominantly with CG and 3D in A Christmas Carol and Beowulf, and with that brings Flight, which may seem like a legal thriller about one pilot's daring flight strategy that saved a lot of lives, but is actually a tale about one man's alcoholism and drug abuse, and the shame he has to live with in covering up his addictions from the public eye when propelled into the limelight.
Wait, does this mean that the trailer's wrestling of airplane controls that resulted in the money shot of flying it upside down, was nothing than a peripheral plot device? Unfortunately, that is an affirmative, with Denzel Washington's Whip Whitaker, a veteran pilot executing everything in the books to correct his jet's sudden nose down scenario, culminating in the upside down glide of the plane to an open field that minimize ground casualties. With 6 perishing under the circumstances out of more than a hundred passengers, Whip's steady hands, which we'd have experienced given his punching his plane out of a stormy weather, once again demonstrated that experienced pilots, compared to the younger officers (Brian Geraghty), are miles better with vast experience and cool head to deal with any unexpected situation.
But Whip's character comes under scrutiny, when the film opens with an eyebrow raising booze and drug abuse, hours before his ill fated flight. I don't know anyone who would not mind travelling on a plane with the pilot on likely DUI charges if found out. One could get away with it most of the time, but when found out, the circumstances surrounding one's state of mind, whether or not one's alert, would mean scapegoats are quickly identified, and blame pinned on something that's easily grasped, versus to scour through hundreds of materials, eyewitnesses and various reports. It's as if it's an open and shut case, and if it is, the film wouldn't be too much, would it?
Which means Don Cheadle's lawyer character Hugh Lang, appointed to defend Whip, didn't get much to do, since this is not a legal thriller, and most of the charges got easily defended, deflected, and covered up through technicalities. It probably also reflected some hard truths in life, that perception is everything, and who's who in your network is just as important when it boils down to knuckle fights and you need some biasness to swing results in your favour. So exit Cheadle once he's done his supporting role. And Flight is temporal in its treatment of supporting roles, with John Goodman being Whip's principal supplier of his vice, popping up when needed to help sober him up, and Bruce Greenwood as Whip's pilot pal in the union, offers little advice, if any at all, there to represent the interests of most parties that would expectedly be in any lawsuits thrown at either direction.
Then perhaps Kelly Reilly's role was the most peculiar here, one that could have been done without as well. Her introductory scenes were edited in at the beginning quite haphazardly interspersed with what's going on thousands of feet in the air, and having little bearing with that panic in the sky. It's fairly irritating to be engaged in a mid-flight crisis, then cut toward Reilly's Nicold role as a junkie who got propositioned for a pornographic film in order to feed her drug addiction, then cut back toward the flight in the sky, then back at her woes of being unable to pay the rent, and passing out on a junkie high. We don't really care about Nicole at that point in the narrative, and having been put off, we continue not to care about her hook up with Whip, being rather peripheral in the character's motivation and intent, as being the fodder for Whip in a what-if scenario that he'd man up to his addiction, and take active steps to correct it, like Nicole did. We know that's the intent, and to add a little bit of loving between the two characters in the same boat, but editing 101 says it could have been done better.
Denzel Washington owns the role of Whip, but perhaps a little too much in successfully bringing out the helplessness of the character who repeatedly refuses to help himself, that after a while it stopped eliciting sympathy from the audience, and alienating Whip further away through his lies and cheating ways. It's consistent with those battling addictions, in that he never really admitted, and is in constant state of denial. Denzel's character is repulsive, and can lie to anyone straight in the eye. We'd like to root for the pilot who had saved lives from the jaws of death, but after knowing his character inside out, that fame and idolatry dissipates, and it became quite laborious to observe that one man's desperation for assistance when he had visits key witnesses to try and influence decisions and statements. Denzel nails his role and that nomination in this year's Oscars, but I suppose the statue will elude him no thanks to the overall negativity that role brought to the party.
Robert Zemeckis had teased Flight to be something more, but it boiled down to be an intense character study on alcoholism, drug abuse, and just about the most repulsive of human traits one can bring to the big screen. It's a departure away from his usual feel good movies, quick to remind us on the failings of the human being, that quickness to judge and condemn, though the pacing of the film sagged in the middle as it muddled around these issues far too much. The first act, without the unnecessary introduction of Nicole, and the final act, are what made the film excitably engaging, but I suppose having been out of the game for some time, it takes a little bit of getting used to, so let's hope Zemeckis next film will return him to the heights he was once known for.