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Flight Review: A Ruinous Failure of Expectation Versus Reality

By Dustin Rowles | Film Reviews | November 2, 2012 | Comments ()


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The Movie I Expected to See Based on the Marketing -- Denzel Washington stars as Whip, a veteran pilot who had a couple of drinks the night before a flight. During the flight, the plane malfunctions, and Whip miraculously saves 96 of the 102 "souls aboard" with some creative, bold, and courageous flying. Unfortunately, the airline -- in attempt to save its own ass -- demonizes Whip and endeavors to make him the scapegoat for the deaths of six people in order to avoid its own liability. Don Cheadle plays the corporate suit tasked with casting blame on Whip. Through determination, resolve, a few studio-film contrivances, and his best friend and biggest defender -- played by John Goodman, in a kooky, wasted three-scene role -- Whip proves that -- despite a negligent amount of alcohol in his system -- he's the only reason that 96 people survived. He is anointed a hero, the music swells, and the airline awards Whip a huge settlement, but more importantly, an apology.

The Movie I Actually Saw -- Denzel Washington stars as Whip, a veteran pilot with a long history of alcohol and drug abuse. The morning after a bender, in which Whip sleeps with one of his flight attendants, Whip knocks back a few more, does a couple of lines of coke, then climbs aboard his plane and downs some more vodka during the flight. Due to a plane malfunction, Whip miraculously saves 96 of the 102 souls aboard, despite being blitzed out of his head. John Goodman -- in a kooky role -- plays his cocaine dealer. Don Cheadle plays the corporate suit working for the pilot's union in an attempt to save Whip's ass. Despite the plane crash, and despite developing a romantic relationship up with a recovering heroin addict, Whip persists in drinking himself into a stupor, and over the course of the next 100 minutes or so, continues a downward spiral until he finally reaches rock bottom at the most inopportune moment available. Ultimately, he credits God and Alcoholics Anonymous for saving him.

--

Very few movies have been as disappointing versus the expectations that marketing established for us than Flight. I had expected, like anyone who'd seen the trailer and television spots for Flight, a studio contrived, feel-good legal drama pitting an underdog against corporate overlords that would perhaps be elevated above formula by another powerful performance from Denzel Washington.

What I did not anticipate, however, was an incredibly expensive public service announcement for the 12-Step Program, or a movie about the random, unexplained nature of "God's plan." Flight is an addiction drama, not a legal one, and it's not a very good addiction drama, at that. Besides the plane crash, it's a fairly generic movie about substance abuse, replete with all the usual addiction tropes. Denzel is serviceable in the role, but it's not a part designed for Washington. He's best when he's playing the noble hero with the winning smile or the over-the-top bad-ass villain with the winning smile. Denzel should be shot from below to highlight what an immensely commanding and imposing figure he cuts. What Denzel Motherf*cking Washington should not be playing is a sniveling, lying drunk shot reduced to trying to beg good people into lying on his behalf.

Screenwriter John Gatins does not employ a particularly good framing device for an addiction drama, either. If a sauced pilot is in a plane crash that kills six people -- and very nearly could've killed all on board -- that should be the moment that opens an alcoholic's eyes. That should be rock bottom. When a film begins with a scene as dramatic as a disastrous plane crash, however, there's no where left for director Robert Zemeckis to go in search for that life-affirming epiphany. Two solid hours of watching a man sober up, relapse, stumble around incoherently, swear off booze, relapse, throw a violent tantrum, and refuse to admit a problem does not create enough space after the dramatic impetus that sets the story in motion and the ultimate redemption to avoid anti-climax.

More criminally, however, is that Paramount's marketing department promised us one movie and delivered us a sermon. Maybe if Flight had transcended the subject material, I'd understand why Paramount attempted to sell it to a broader audience. But Flight is a Lifetime movie with a better hook and, admittedly, a superior cast. But neither the hook nor the solid performances are enough to elevate Flight above what it is: A hackneyed drama about one man coming to terms with his alcohol addiction.



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Comments Are Welcome, Douches Are Not


  • honeybee

    I'm really surprised by this review! FWIW, I just got back from seeing this movie and I thought it was really good - a bit long, I would have tightened it up more in editing, but overall it reminded me what a solid filmmaker Zemeckis can be. The flight scene is harrowing, I actually teared up during it just as a pure visceral reaction (so glad I'm not flying anywhere any time soon, omg), and to me it made complete sense that the plane crash is not the main character's epiphany moment - in fact, of course it's not: the plane crash wasn't his fault. So why would he blame himself? If anything I think it would give an addict permission to keep right on drinking and drugging, because look what he can do while he's high - he can land a plan he has almost no control of, and keep nearly everyone alive! I don't know what would be more of an affirmation that "everything's just fine" than that. I completely agree with the poster below, to me this was a much more real and raw film because it was messy and didn't conform to how things "should" be, which from what I understand is how addiction works in real life (zero personal experience so I can't speak with much authority on this). Also I was glad to see Denzel cast against type, and I was mostly impressed by his work here.

  • purplejebus

    This! I mean, it's almost too obvious to miss. A sober person would have felt like a badass for saving that many lives. How much more so a drug addict?

    And btw, disqus can have some prison sex for expecting me to sign up or sign in, just to downvote someone whose oppinion I disagree with. This is the Internet. I'm sorry if your "special, little snowflake's" feelings get hurt because I don't think you and your opinion are worth the time it would take to type out why.

  • Michelle

    I actually thought Washington was good in it. It's not his best work, but that man owns whatever screen he's on, nearly all the time. I was with the movie right up until the last 20 minutes and then it went exactly where I hoped it didn't.

    I also don't think the plane crash would have or could have been his rock bottom because it's pretty clear from the get-go he couldn't have done anything to avoid it and in fact did not cause it. (Not a spoiler, I promise!)

  • westie187

    Saw this this weekend. This review is dead-on. Not a good movie. The only good scene is the plane crash. Denzel does his best with what he had to work with.

  • kirbyjay

    I would watch Denzel in anything. ANYTHING!!! I loves me some Denzel and somehow he manages to elevate every movie he is in.

  • Skyler Durden

    I love an addiction drama, but I avoided this because like everyone else, I thought this movie was something else. So instead, I saw an 'actual' addiction drama that came out this week, "Smashed." It was TERRIFIC, albeit depressing as fuck.

    But now, having read the opinions of Pajibians who liked this movie, maybe I will see it too.

    Edit: But, if 'Smashed' comes you your town, fucking GO AND SEE IT. It's very rare that alcoholism from the female POV is represented, and M.E.W. is very, very good here.

  • A. Smith

    I saw it a couple weeks ago but wow. Few movies have me choked and crying at the end and that was one of them. It had its funny moments, that weird come on during the drive home capped with a Smokey-esq "oh hell no" moment comes to mind. But yes the whole thing is extremely heartbreaking. I love the movie but it'll take me a while before I can see it again.

  • totheleft

    THIS MOVIE WAS SO INCREDIBLY AWESOME.
    I also thought it would be Gumpish and epic but it was raw, to the disappointment of most commenters, The whole flight analogy was amazing, especially when you think about in terms of the life of an addict or alcoholic. The acting oscar worthy, the sound track was great and the ending, well, nothing less than heart wrenching and inspiring.

  • James

    Man! The trailer was terrible from the beginning...it looked like a 90s movie - and by that, I mean a do-over of "Philadelphia". I'm glad it's awful and nobody will try to shove it in my throat.

  • fattestcat

    I think its a pretty low blow how they jacked stuff from the real life Alaska 261 crash (jackscrew failure) to use here.

  • PDamian

    Saw it a few hours ago. A very good film, if not top notch. The movie does drag at a few points, but is ultimately made better by Denzel's performance, which is terrific. It's pretty much his show, and he nails it. That being said, the side story about the heroin addict/love interest could have been cut and the film would have survived nicely and would have been a tighter, more concise story. Kelly Reilly's performance was good, but unnecessary and a distraction.

  • junierizzle

    Also if you expect one movie and get another well............

  • HMDK

    Then you might have a point. Since making movies and selling them are two different things, done by different people.

  • junierizzle

    I completely disagree. First of all saying that Denzel shouldn't have played this role is ridiculous. He gives a very nuanced performance. He can do other things besides yell and beat the Crap out of people.

    Also it isn't about a man trying to go clean. Its about a man in full blown addiction mode. The entire movie is his rock bottom. And what's wrong about a movie about addiction with a message? I think its really ballsy to just stick with it until the end.

  • Semilitterate

    Gee, I've only seen the TV adverts, and I was looking for something along the lines of an "Unstoppable with wings & stuff. Glad I read this before I paid my nickel.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    I'm in opposite land. The commercial I've been seeing didn't look interesting to me at all.

    The movie described is not one I'd typically see, but it sounds like it's making an effort. It sounds like it's actually trying to say something, instead of being trite. It sounds like it's acknowledging that actually, the obvious mistake that SHOULD be rock bottom really doesn't provide the kick in the pants to get clean. You know - who sobers up after their wife & kids leave them? More likely: who sobers up because a year after his wife & kids leave him he falls down a flight of stairs, or gets a stupid ticket for not moving at a stop sign. The plot sounds messy, like addiction is.

    Other than that, what?! What Denzel Motherf*cking Washington should not be playing is a sniveling, lying drunk shot reduced to trying to beg good people into lying on his behalf.

    Damn that actor and his trying something new! Damn that director for getting him to play against type!

  • idiosynchronic

    It sounds as though this movie knows what it should be, but couldn't get the right screenwriter or director to make it to its potential. As Hollywood is crap and full of recovering addiction, they're willing to make crap in order to feed their ego.

    I believe this is how Crash was considered art while full of shit.

  • Uriah_Creep

    I absolutely agree. The movie DR expected sounds boring and cliched, but the movie he describes appeals to me and would seem to offer Denzel a much better chance to show his actressin' chops.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    for what it's worth - the NY Times gave it a very strong review.

  • doomhasspoken

    I think that a very similar thing happened to the movie Falling Down. It could have been a a very moving and straightforward plea for common decency. But no. Instead, if memory serves, they HAD to make William Foster (Michael Douglas) a deranged and sociopathic stalker who really just wants to murder his wife. Totally wasted opportunity, if you ask me.

  • Uncle Mikey

    That was the whole point - people who lose control always feel like they were pushed. The guy who had more of a reason to lose it kept his self control and was the better man. If that's not a plea for decency I dont know what is.

    Denzel movie sounds pretty good.

  • Fredo

    So it's Leaving Las Vegas on a plane?

  • It could be worse. Denzel could beat you over the head with a literal Bible after the apocalypse instead of with a metaphorical one after a plane crash.

  • dan

    Honestly I just saw the trailer and expected the movie you actually saw

  • lowercase_ryan

    The sad thing is, I think the movie they advertised would do better than the actual film.

  • Erich

    That's the movie I was planning on seeing this weekend. The advertised film looked outstanding.
    Instead, my money is going to The Man With The Iron Fists.

  • George

    Are you really not going to see it because it didn't conform to one critic's expectations? If you want to see it, then see it. Decide for yourself whether or not it's a good film.

  • lowercase_ryan

    When you read as many of Dustin's reviews as I have then I will absolutely let his reviews influence what I'm going to see. He has credibility with me, big time.

  • George

    Me too, but I also like to think for myself. Plus, the movie is certified fresh on rottentomatoes, so do you really discount all of those positive reviews just because Dustin didn't like it?

  • junierizzle

    Yeah I don't get that either. If you want to see it, see it.

  • Sean

    Get really drunk or high before Iron Fists. Nowhere as fun as the preview leads you to believe.

  • This is very disappointing to hear. I was looking forward to the first movie; the second sounds depressing as hell.

  • Scully

    My curiosity was piqued by the use of Gimme Shelter in the trailer. Bastards!

  • idiosynchronic

    http://online.wsj.com/article/...

    'Gimme Shelter' or 'Gimme a Break'?

  • I complained at the time that everyone uses that damn song and it made no sense to throw it in the trailer other than everyone loves it and it has a hell of a lot of history and emotional attachments.

    Now it makes sense.

    So, God's plan was to kill 6 people and still not let the drunk have an epiphany? Maybe it was someone else's epiphany God killed them for. The guy in 13b mebbe.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Well, at any time in our lives alcoholism is "just a shot away".

  • HMDK

    That's like "one toke over the line". I've passed both years ago.

  • pajiba

    I know, right? I fall for that song every goddamn time.

  • Scully

    Every. Goddamn. Time.

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