Running Time: 138 Minutes
Directed By : Robert Zemeckis
Starring – Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, Bruce Greenwood and John Goodman
NOT since Ted Striker in Airplane can this reviewer remember the issue of pilots with drinking problems being addressed cinematically, but Robert Zemeckis’ feature, Flight tackles the issue in a much more forthright and serious manner.
It’s been nearly a decade since Zemeckis released a feature that wasn’t animated, he has spent the last 10 years working with CGI and stop motion technology. It’s great to see the director back working with an onscreen cast again but this feature about alcoholic hero pilot, Whit Whitaker, is a disappointing muddled affair
Despite featuring an Oscar-nominated performance by Washington and a strong supporting cast including Bruce Greenwood, Don Cheadle and John Goodman alongside British actress Kelly Reilly, the film never really capitalised on its considerable onscreen talent.
Raising issues without ever really addressing them more importantly leaving several characters stories unresolved, notably Reilly’s character Nicole. A recovering heroin addict who becomes a potential love interest to Washington’s character, but half way through the film she leaves him and the film, leaving viewers unclear as to whether she successfully beat her addiction. Other characters like Whitaker’s god-fearing co-pilot, felt shoehorned into the feature, adding little to the film’s overall narrative.
Despite this criticism, the film is held together by Washington’s great central performance. He is initially branded a hero after miraculously averting disaster on board his aircraft, his actions saving the lives of many of the passengers and crew on board. But when the air crash investigation discovers his high alcohol count their focus shift to prove Whitaker’s liability for the loss of six lives during the incident. Whitaker is forced to confront his demons and tackle his drinking problem, or face a possible life sentence in prison.
The film’s screenplay offers very little insight into Whitaker’s psyche, the reasons for his drinking are never explored and it never asks viewers to pass judgement on whether he should have been behind the pilot seat in the first place. As such it’s hard to fell sympathetic for a character living in constant denial of his problem, spurning several opportunities to turn a corner with his addiction.
Throughout the feature’s narrative there is several mentions to god and theology, this hints that the film is a redemption movie for its troubled central protagonist. But there’s simply not enough of it on display within the film. The semi-reconciliation of Whitaker’s broken relationship with his son in the film’s epilogue felt like a half-hearted attempted to placate viewers.
The film’s first hour is superb, in particular the plane crash sequence which is a visually stunning set-piece. But despite a great soundtrack and strong performances by the cast, notably John Goodman as Whitaker’s drug dealing enabling friend, the film drags itself over the finishing line.
While it’s great to see Zemeckis returning to live action features, this might not be the triumphant return many had hoped for. Flight isn’t without its charm but I found it a frustrating and disappointing viewing experience.
Review By William McClean