Flight is a bumpy ride. It swoops and sputters.
Denzel Washington has to hold it together as it dives and spirals. The one constant in the film is the provocative performance of Denzel as pilot Whip Whitaker, who is severely addicted to booze and drugs.
Whip has to survive a deadly plane crash and its toxic aftermath.
Denzel has said it was a "raw" role, and that it has taken him several viewings before he was able to really relate to the movie and his performance.
Imagine us in the audience. We're not used to Denzel portraying a liar. Denzel's character lies over and over again. He also connives.
We aren't comfortable with a Denzel character having such a basic lack of integrity. Maybe he's considering a career in politics.
Flight is the gruelling story of a pilot who -with extraordinary prowess and imagination - crash-lands a dysfunctional airliner. Most of the passengers survive.
But a toxicology report reveals that the pilot had substantial alcohol and drugs in his system. A union leader (Bruce Greenwood) and a lawyer (Don Cheadle) try to protect him. Also backing Whip is a pony-tailed, drug-aficionado buddy (John Goodman).
But Whip abuses their faith and himself in his flight from reality. Crises abounds.
Robert Zemeckis directs unevenly from an erratic screenplay by John Gatins. Flight basically is a shaky character study, but its strength is a terrific action sequence, as the pilot struggles trying to control his plummeting plane.
Nothing else in the film comes up to this visceral sequence.
The early part of Flight veers between Whip on the plane and scenes of a junkie (Kelly Reilly). It's a disconcerting juxtaposition.
The great strength of Denzel is his credibility, but he is hampered by the interruptions of scenes with the junkie on a porn set and arguing with her scruffy apartment manager. They seem artificial.
Whip and the junkie are going to meet later in a hospital and embark on a relationship, but the movie is awkward in introducing her character.
The film's emphasis on religion is also cumbersome. The crash is called an "act of God," but many of the religious characters are strangely extreme. It's neither effective faith-based values nor effective satire.
In its climax, the film's makers utilize a large photo to have a crucial, but unbelievable effect. It's deus ex machina.
Don Cheadle and Bruce Greenwood are convincing as the professionals involved in Whip's case. Kelly Reilly is able as the junkie. John Goodman is a hoot as Whip's loyal buddy and supplier. Goodman provides much appreciated lively humor amidst the chaos.
But Flight basically is Denzel Washington carrying the movie on his broad backside. People in the theater seem to yearn so much for the old Denzel they break into applause when Whip rejects booze. But don't get too comfortable, audience.
Flight is like a long layover in an airport bar. It has its upside, and its downside.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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