Robert Zemeckis dives back in to live action drama for the first time since 2000’s Castaway and has once again created a film where the plot and sub-plots are carried by one man. That man is Captain ‘Whip’ Whitaker (Denzel Washington). In the opening sequence of Flight we see Whip consuming alcohol, and sniffing cocaine while smoking marijuana. Fast forward five minutes and this man is at the cockpit of a commercial airliner.
The next sequence is as breat taking as it is unbelievable; at 30,000 feet the plane develops a mechanical fault and begins hurtling towards the ground. In an amazing series of events he manoeuvres the aircraft upside down before crash-landing, saving almost all his passengers. The sequence is amazingly shot and may cause people to rethink flying for a while.
From there Washington’s performance begins to shine and capture the audience. An alcoholic in denial, we see what happens to a man who is a reluctant hero, the pressures of the limelight shining upon him.
In an under-rated performance Don Cheadle (playing the high-priced criminal attorney) attempts to cover the tracks of Whip’s secrets and keep his struggles hidden from investigators. With the multiple opportunities for redemption the film is clearly gearing towards, some may wonder why it does not come sooner. However, it’s here John Gatin’s screenplay is at its most gripping, Whip’s problems hidden, seemingly absolved of blame in the crash. It leaves you in doubt as to whether there will be the cliché Hollywood redemption or in fact whether Whip is doomed to be consumed by his demons.
Kelly Reilly’s character – a heroin addict attempting to get sober – is used as a great muse to shine the light on Whip’s problems as he continues to plunge further into the abyss and alienate everyone who cares for him.
While not alarmingly slow-paced, the film does at points feel like it may never end. These moments are often followed by a reminder of Washington’s talent. While Whip is egotistical and reckless he very subtly portrays a desperate addict amazingly. At every turn his actions make you want to hate him even more, yet in spite of this you find yourself rooting for his redemption and recovery. It is Washington’s ability to portray the character’s innate vulnerability that creates this feeling.
While an enjoyable film there were elements both unnecessary and frustrating. John Goodman’s performance as a drug dealer was very overacted with the film leading us to believe that after drinking all night, a line of cocaine will solve all your problems. Both Cheadle and Reilly’s roles should have been expanded, with such talent on screen it was a shame that they were not given more focus.
Zemeckis has tried to apply the Castaway effect to this film, trying to isolate Whip from civilisation, waiting to be rescued. More focus could have been given to Whip’s family dynamic; the background that made him the way he is. A highly recommended film, if only for the flight sequences and Washington’s truly Oscar-worthy performance.
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