Flight (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
10Nov/122

Flight (2012)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

It's tough to make a movie about alcoholism. We all know that-- addiction is unflattering at best. Flight is about the dangers of addiction, and how it can destroy brilliant, good people, but, like it's main character, it's all soggy in the middle.

Flight is interested in just what makes an addict work. There are functional alcoholics who can do what they can do and do it fantastically. They can be cheery and smart, funny and pleasant, but they can also be brittle and callous. People who project an air of confidence become angry and defensive at the slightest mention that they have a problem. In the meantime, their relationships deteriorate, and their anger becomes less a reserve and more a blunt weapon to push away all those around them.

This is how it works for Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington), a heroic airplane pilot with a long list of addictions. What the film does well is how it creates Whip's follies and builds around them. The film's final moments brings all of that into focus-- about how an addiction can ruin your life. It's hard for the alcoholic to realize it, but their lives become cycles of feeding their own needs, like a man in a dark alley eating his own vomit over and over again and getting furious when other people point it out.

No, quit looking at the sun, Whip! God, you really are self destructive, aren't you?!

There's no vomit in Flight, but we have blood and guts and a few other fluids for good measure. Whip Whitaker is an addict-- a bad one-- but he's also an airplane pilot. The movie opens with his normal routine, which involves sex with a stewardess, narcotics, and the whole pre-flight checklist. This leads to an extended, tense sequence as the build up and eventual disaster here-- that plane doesn't land conventionally-- really nails both the terror possible in air flight and the amazing possibilities capable therein.

This puts a microscope onto Whitaker's life, which is far from spotless. Besides his various problems, his best friend is his drug dealer and the likelihood of a criminal sentence of life in prison in spite of his successful landing is likely. The only thing he has to do to stop it is stay sober and tell one little lie at the inquest. Neither will be simple.

Washington is a treat (and definitely stretches him image a bit here), and he's supported gamely, especially by the estimable Bruce Greenwood and Don Cheadle. Robert Zemeckis, who's always an interesting director, imbues the film with his staple 'better soundtrack than end result'. It's expert level stuff, but feels plodding when it should be engaging.

John Goodman is also alllllllllright here. And he's on the list.

I'm going to lay that at the feet of a parallel story with a heroin addict named Nicole (Kelly Reilly). She functions as a counterpoint until somewhere in the middle of the film but disappears quickly near the middle when she realizes Whip is trying to drag her back into bad habits. The movie spends a lot of time setting up how messed up she is as well, though she struggles to maintain decency as her only bargaining chip for drugs is slowly becoming the fact that she's a woman.

It's interesting to watch her evolution from being constantly in peril to being strong enough to resist someone as falsely sweet as Whip. However, there's no meat beyond that, and it never really pays off. Their reconnection in the end seems silly simply because its so unlikely, and the two share so little that she never feels as consequential as the time lavished on her character deserves.

The story is engaging, even if Zemeckis unwisely goes for chuckles of disbelief over genuine shock and disgust. Washington is convincing as a man far gone, but it's still a Hollywood version of that malady. It leaves us on the outside. This is half the point the movie-- we never get inside Whip's head-- but it also makes it feel an unsatisfying level of distance.

"You need to cut me! And by 'me' I mean 'chunks of this film'!"

The use of the titular word 'flight' is interesting, since it can be construed both as the flight that catapults Whip to prominence, but it also serves as allusions to Whip's attempts to dodge life and/or ride various highs. The connection to the heavens is also connected to how the film harangues him with ideas about the plans of God, which he's more than a little reluctant to investigate. Although this carries a lot of weight in the dialogue, it, too, feels relegated to the back burner.

Hopefully, all addicts can achieve that moment of clarity where they realize that what they're doing is destroying themselves-- their bodies, their relationships, their souls. Whip gets his, though I'm still not sure he earned it. But, then again, who am I to judge that?

Posted by Danny

Comments (2) Trackbacks (0)
  1. His moment of clarity does come … and perhaps he doesn’t deserve it, but his family does …. his son who needs him does. I agree the film could benefit from some editing in the middle — mainly because of the lack of story to tell there. FLIGHT has its powerful scenes though, as I’m sure you felt.

    • Yeah, it’s really a “it sure has it’s moments” kind of movie. And that’s a good observation about his son, too; his change is interesting and sweet. Thanks for commenting!


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