Director Robert Zemeckis returns to live action with the heady new drama Flight. Has the director lost his touch since Cast Away? Jeffrey Harris checks in with his full review.
Directed By: Robert Zemeckis Written By: John Gatins Runtime: 138 minutes MPAA Rating: Rated R
Whip Whittaker - Denzel Washington Nicole Maggen - Kelly Reilly Harling Mays - John Goodman Hugh Lang - Don Cheadle Charlie Anderson - Bruce Greenwood Katerina Marquez - Nadine Velazquez Ellen Block - Melissa Leo Margaret Thomason - Tamara Tunie Deanna - Marcelle Beauvais Will Whittaker - Justin Martin Ken Evans - Brian Geraghty Gaunt Young Man - James Badge Dale
No one really shoots a plane crash quite like Robert Zemeckis. The plane crash of course is the thrilling catalyst to his new live action drama, Flight. Zemeckis returns to traditional live action filmmaking for the first time since Cast Away in 2000. It’s fittingly appropriate he returns to this particular art form with another thrilling, nail-biting plane crash sequence as one of the center pieces of the movie in the opening act. For quite some time, Zemeckis has been composing his tales in a CG animated, motion capture format that, say what you will, have been in many ways lacking. Call it the uncanny valley, the dead eyes, or a certain creepy stiffness but something was just off throughout numerous parts of Beowulf, A Christmas Carol, and The Polar Express.
Flight is a strong return to live action filmmaking for Zemeckis. The movie opens with an introduction to commercial airline pilot, Whit Whittaker (Washington). He wakes up in a hotel room hung over out of his mind with a hot and naked flight attendant (Velazquez). Not only is he incredibly hung over, he’s drinking leftover bottles of Corona and doing lines of the naughty salt to wake himself up. Whittaker is an unfortunate addict and alcoholic and a functioning one at that.
With 102 people on board, Whittaker takes a flight from Orlando through extremely hazardous weather. The flight gets through some naughty turbulence OK, but Whittaker can’t help himself by mixing liquor into his drinks, with his co-pilot, Ken Evans (Geraghty), clearly smelling the booze off of Whittaker’s person. Just before the plane begins its descent, something goes wrong. The plane loses control and starts to fall apart. Whittaker takes control, and in a daring move gets the plane inverted and dumps the fuel to put the plane into a glide. He maneuvers the plane into an open field to crash land the plane. Six people perish including two flight attendants, but loss of life was minimal. While it wasn't directly Whittaker’s fault that the plane crashed (it was more than likely a mechanical part failure), the inquiries into the crash could very well expose the skeletons in Whittaker’s closet, something he is not ready to face or come to grips with. Whittaker finds solace in a relationship with a recovering crack addict Nicole (Reilly) whom Whittaker unselfishly helps, and the two damaged addict start a relationship. Naturally, Nicole not wanting to fall off the wagon again, gets increasingly worried about being around Whittaker, who continually drinks his worries and problems away.
Flight is an intense and compelling character drama. It starts very well with the stunning plane crash sequence, but things slow way down after that. Gatins writes with an interesting, sort of melodramatic and theatrical sensibility. There are a few scenes in the story that come off like they could just as easily be performed onstage as they could onscreen. And that’s to the detriment to the movie, because there are also a few scenes in the film that are fun for acting performances but add little to the overall story and probably could’ve been trimmed to keep the plot moving quicker. In terms of pacing, the movie runs about a reel too long.
The movie is filled with strong performances, notably Washington as Whittaker. Washington keeps you on the fence with his performance, as you should be. You want to root for Whittaker and see him get clean, but he continues to remain in denial as the walls keep closing in. His salvation from avoiding potential jail time means lying and potentially ruining the reputation of someone else. The scene stealer of course is John Goodman as Whittaker’s sleazy, drug supplying buddy in Harling Mays. Mays’ charm and charisma is juxtaposed against the bad behavior he brings out and associates with Whittaker that you want to see Whittaker overcome.
The 411: Flight was an intense and compelling drama. Yet again, no one shoots a plane crash like Robert Zemeckis. The movie keeps you guessing as it chronicles the trials and tribulations of the alcoholic Whip Whittaker, strongly played by Denzel Washington. You are never quite sure what you want to see happen to Whip as he struggles with alcoholism. Pacing-wise the movie runs a little too long. Overall a strong effort in Zemeckis' return to live action.