Actor-writer John Gatins spent 12 years trying to get Flight made. One thing led to another, and Paramount agreed to make it once Denzel Washington and Robert Zemeckis came onboard. It is definitely a work of passion.

Just hours before Captain Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) has to pilot a plane from Orlando to Atlanta, he is still boozing and snorting coke and having sex with a crew member. Before the flight, Whip violates the law again by drinking. When the plane malfunctions and nosedives, Whip makes a call and flips the plane upside down and thus averts a disaster that could have killed everyone onboard. Four passengers and two crew members die, however.

Whip is quickly hailed the hero. However, before he can celebrate and bask in his glory, he is being investigated for having been intoxicated while piloting the plane. He's helped by his friend Charlie (Bruce Greenwood) and lawyer Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle), who tries to convince Whip to get sober while they try to clear his name. While at the hospital, Whip meets recovering drug addict Nicole (Kelly Reilly). Nicole tries to stay clean and convince Whip to seek help, but Whip doesn't want any of that.

As the pressure mounts, Whip becomes more stressed and depressed, and he turns to booze and drugs to cope. That's the last thing he should be doing while he faces his hearing. He also becomes increasing out of control, and Nicole decides to leave him so she won't sink with his ship.

Denzel Washington (Unstoppable) won a Best Actor Oscar for playing a villain. Here, he once again plays an unlikable character, who is so deep in his own shit that he can't see the light. Deep down, the character isn't a bad person, but he is arrogant (he is the only person who could have done what he did, and thus he was the hero who saved all those lives including his own), stubborn, and often abrasive and unkind to others. Washington walks a fine line portraying this character, giving us enough to empathize but never a reason to condone his actions. He's given an impressive performance.

Kelly Reilly (Sherlock Holmes) surprises with her delicate portrayal of a junkie who is in dire need for help. Her performance, in comparison, is quieter and more understated, and thus provides a nice counterpoint to Washington's bravado. John Goodman (Argo) receives great Oscar buzz for playing Whip's drug dealer, and for a good reason. Bruce Greenwood (Super 8) and Don Cheadle (Iron Man 2) are both solid in their supporting roles. Melissa Leo (The Fighter) has a brief but commanding role as well.

John Gratins's (Real Steel) screenplay is very serious in tone and themes and subject matters. It deals with alcoholism, drug abuse and faith head-on without apologies. The dialogue and the plot are thoughtful and serious. At times, I do feel that Gratins preaches too much. It feels like a message movie. Also, Whip just isn't a very likable, although Gratins tries to give him many dimensions. But realistic since Whip is an alcoholic, he is realistically portrayed and written as an ass. The problem is that it makes it more difficult for the audience to identify and empathize. It's a risk that Gratins has to take, and I give him kudos for that.

Still, it makes it hard to really like this story or the characters. Nicole is a more sympathetic character and she serves as a nice counterpoint to Whip. Still, this is really Whip's show, so the parallel arcs don't really work. Also, the reasons for Nicole's sobering up isn't well explained.

The direction of Robert Zemeckis (A Christmas Carol), who took some much needed time off, is solid. The film has a gritty, realistic look to it, which serves the material just fine, if not entirely aesthetic. The pacing though seems uneven. There are some slow parts of the story where the plot doesn't seem to move at all. The plot seems to have stopped just to develop the characters some more. The crash scene is good, but not as amazing as Zemeckis's other crash scene in Cast Away.

While Denzel Washington gave a wonderful performance as the flawed man, this is not an easy movie to love. It just feels too heavy, without a lot of humor, and preachy. While the performances are strong and the direction solid, the movie never quite takes flight.

Stars: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman, Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood, Melissa Leo
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writer: John Gatins
Distributor: Paramount
MPAA Rating:  R for drug and alcohol abuse, language, sexuality, nudity and intense action sequence
Running Time: 138 minutes 


Script - 7
Performance - 8
Direction - 8
Cinematography - 7
Music/Sound - 7
Editing - 7
Production - 8

Total - 7.5 out of 10.0 

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