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Flight Review: A Ruinous Failure of Expectation Versus Reality

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


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.

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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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