Posted on: 8th February 2013  |

Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman
UK Release date: 1 February 2013
Certificate: 15 (138 mins)

Directed by Oscar winner Robert Zemeckis, starring two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington, written and produced by Oscar nominees John Gatins and Walter F. Parkes, respectively, and released to coincide nicely with awards season, it would be easy to regard Flight as merely Paramount Pictures’ flagship Academy Award contender for 2013: a film laden with drama and emotional conflict, but ultimately lacking the substance to make a lasting impression.

Fortunately, Flight is not that film.

Washington stars as William ‘Whip’ Whitaker, an exceptionally skilled but troubled airline pilot. On the morning of a scheduled flight, he wakes up in an Orlando hotel room with flight attendant, Katerina Marquez (Nadine Velazquez) after a night of sex, drugs, alcohol and virtually no sleep. He wakes himself up with cocaine and then takes charge of SouthJet flight 227 to Atlanta. He guides the plane through turbulence before taking a nap, but is awoken as the plane goes into a steep dive. He crash lands the plane masterfully, saving nearly everyone on board. Whip is hailed as a hero, but as details about the crash are learned, more questions than answers arise as to who or what was at fault and what really happened on the plane.

Flight is very much a character study: rather than focusing on the wider fallout of the plane crash, the film concentrates on Whip after the incident as he attempts to control his alcoholism (something he rigorously denies). Washington is excellent throughout, bringing the audience along inch-by-inch on Whip’s harrowing journey of self-realisation, as he moves from hero to tragic soul. Regardless of your overall opinion of the character, you will feel a degree of sympathy at some point.

Washington is ably supported by a cast that includes Bill Greenwood as the head of the pilots’ union and Don Cheadle as the lawyer trying to bury Whip’s toxicology report, which could result in the pilot going to prison.

Where Flight does falter is with the inclusion of heroin junkie Nicole (British actress Kelly Reilly). After meeting this troubled young woman in a hospital following her overdose, Whip promises to visit her. Whilst it is clear that the two characters share similarities (addiction, primarily) and their stories do intertwine to an extent, Nicole is not given enough screen time to make any lasting impression. Furthermore, she is just not as interesting as Whip. In a character-based film, she seems to have been simply shoehorned in as a token love interest. Reilly’s strained and somewhat grinding southern drawl doesn’t do her any favours, either. John Goodman also makes an appearance as drug dealer Harling Mays, whose comedic value will divide opinion.

In the run up to the hearing which will determine what caused the plane to crash and decide Whip’s fate, his alcoholism worsens. At the same time, another theme in the film is allowed to develop – faith. Whip’s own religious beliefs seem to be fairly up in the air (first and only aeroplane-based pun, I apologise), but he encounters characters whose own views on God make him think about his actions before, during and after the crash: a hospital patient who believes God gave him cancer; and the plane’s co-pilot, Ken Evans (Brian Geraghty), who thinks that God caused the crash and crippled him. Even the lawyer defending Whip makes a case for the accident happening due to an act of God. ‘Whose God would do this?’, Whip replies wearily. What is interesting is how accepting the characters are of their respective fates because they believe them to be a result of deliberate actions of God. Indeed, the cancer patient even feels ‘chosen’.

If and why God chooses to take life, whether prematurely or not, is not a debate fit for this film review. However, in this film, the discussions about faith allow Whip to take stock, think about his actions and accept responsibility for them. This concludes with him uttering, ‘God help me’ following the outcome of the hearing as he begins a new phase of his personal journey.

Flight is a victorious return for Robert Zemeckis. His first live-action film since Cast Away in 2000 is engaging and thought-provoking, led by a superb and enthralling performance by Denzel Washington.

Ed Dixon

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Flight Movie Trailer (2012)


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