Moviegoers, have a nice ‘Flight’
MANILA, Philippines - “Flight” is not just the latest from 58-year-old actor Denzel Washington. It’s also the newest entry in an evolving canon of dramas that will never become in-flight movies — a roster that includes the 1993 releases “Alive” and “Fearless.”
In the case of “Flight,” the 2012 flick that marks the live-action comeback of “motion capture” director Robert Zemeckis, we see a harrowing plane sequence (one of two, actually) that is both exhilarating and terrifying, replete with a stunt that’s rather unique in up-in-the-air filmdom.
But as with many a plane-crash movie — and unlike 2006’s true-to-life “United 93,” which was about its titular aircraft’s tragic 9/11 trip — there is more to “Flight” than its depicted airborne mishap.
An alcoholic’s agony
Specifically, as hinted by its simple promotional poster, “Flight” concentrates on its main protagonist, pilot Whip Whitaker (played by Washington), and plays out less as a gripping thriller and more as an engrossing character study.
And what a character this is: Whip is a professional flyer who is also a drug-abusing alcoholic. (Not a first-of-its-kind character, though, as witness the late Cliff Robertson’s hardly seen 1980 film “The Pilot.”)
Whereas Whip can navigate confidently even through uncooperative weather and faulty hardware, he is shown as unable to work his way out of a debilitating dependence on booze and cocaine use, too self-indulgent to resist liquor even while on pilot duty. (If “Flight” were a comedy, Whip is certain to be worshipped by the naughty Kumar of the “Harold and Kumar” trilogy.)
It is from this focus on Whip’s tortuous road to possible redemption that “Flight” draws its strength, and which helps to explain the Oscar nomination earned by screenplay author John Gatins.
And it is to the film’s immense good that it’s Washington who’s piloting the proceedings on-camera, his Academy Award-nominated performance mostly subdued and less of a pitiable meltdown than Nicolas Cage’s directionless drunkard in “Leaving Las Vegas.”(Alas, Cage won an Oscar for his pains while Washington, thanks to Daniel “Lincoln” Day-Lewis, is not expected to.)
As Washington and Zemeckis orchestrate it, Whip is a flawed hero, capable of saving ill-fated individuals — such as the down-and-out recovering addict played by Kelly Reilly (she’s Mary Watson in the recent “Sherlock Holmes” movies) — but is incapable of saving himself from his crushing vices.
That makes for “Flight’s” poignant complexity: Whip is not a bad man, not one to harm others per se, yet careless enough about his addictions as to deserve the jail time that has managed to elude him. It is his fall from grace, and not his fall from the sky, that makes “Flight” soar, indeed.
Flawed hero, flawed film
For the most part, this personal conflict makes “Flight” a considerable sit-through despite its lengthy 139 minutes. Viewers would somehow end up rooting for the character, aching to give the fictitious guy a helpful push to the mountaintop of sobriety.
But like its central figure, “Flight” is not without flaws.
Given both the tendency for sentimentality by Zemeckis (he of “Forrest Gump” and “Cast Away”) and Gatins (who had scripted “Coach Carter” and “Real Steel”), “Flight” has moments of such contrived drama that discriminating viewers might wonder what, say, Martin Scorsese and/or David Mamet could have done with the boozing-pilot plot.
It doesn’t help that, their pleasing familiarity aside, the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge” and the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” and Gimme Shelter” are used on the soundtrack as audience-dumbing emotional cues — even if it’s the efficient Reilly or a welcome John Goodman whom were beholding on the big screen.
For his part, musical director Alan Silvestri lays on sonic saccharine in other moments, virtually re-conjuring the piano-based mush he had composed for “Forrest Gump.”
Still, quite unlike Whip’s, “Flight’s” imperfections are outweighed by the film’s pluses.
The movie — a for-adults diversion given some nudity and profanity, and several seconds of coke-snorting — is commendable theatrical fare.
It’s also believable enough to make you want to ask a stewardess on your next flight to keep the mini-bar away from the gentlemen in the cockpit. - Rappler.com
("Flight" is currently screening in Philippine cinemas.)