Director: Robert Zemeckis
There’s a lesson to be heard, yes, heard, in Flight. Whether one wants to learn it, or at least grasp it, depends on who you are. And that – the “depending on who you are” part – also goes for moments that could make some laugh while others may have moral complexes about the lead character’s actions.
Denzel Washington is the lead and he’s probably giving his most inspired performance since 2007’s American Gangster (though his patent quivering bottom-lip is getting laughably old). He’s not only the protagonist, he’s also the antagonist. And the latter he plays beautifully, as you will get flustered by his on-screen choices; which signals that a respective actor is doing their job in building an emotional attachment to the material.
And speaking of the material, director Robert Zemeckis has an award-winning knack in crafting a roller-coaster story arc for a character (Cast Away, Forest Gump). He balances this half-serious, half-amusing conscious tale with minimal turbulence (yeah, that was cheesy, I know).
Washington plays an airline pilot who frequently dips into the world of excess. He enjoys a variety of alcohol and has no problem chasing it with a few hearty snorts of coke to straighten out before flying. As he readies himself to fly home to Atlanta, he has to deal with a nasty storm and a malfunctioning plane.
And before more is divulged of what happens in this 134 minute flick, the malfunctioning plane sequence is one that must be addressed.
Simply put, if there was an award for the most dramatic sequence/scene in a film, this would be a surefire winner. The cutting of camera angles capturing Washington and his co-pilot (Brian Geraghty) dealing with what looks to be a tedious ride (which is paced smoothly for the audience) to death, is so engaging that you selfishly want this terror to drag on as long as possible. Every technical and/or mechanical aspect of filmmaking just comes together in this suspenseful moment. If the rest of the movie bombed, which it doesn’t, this alone would be worth the over-priced theater ticket.
Now once that gripping sequence concludes, the script comes to a fork in the road, yet each path is worth the drive.
One centers on all the legal ramifications that comes with a disaster such as this. And this subplot ushers Don Cheadle, in a supporting capacity, as a high-powered attorney. Cheadle is subdued in this role (usually he’s very charismatic), but he quietly becomes a character you look forward to coming back onto the screen because his dynamic clashes with Washington’s arrogant and cavalier attitude (which provides some intermittent laughs).
The other path focuses on what we’ll call the “serious side;” as Washington attempts to deal with his vices. During this portion of the screenplay, Washington is paired up with a recovering junkie (Kelly Reilly) who he crossed paths with while recovering at the hospital. Her purpose is to show the current state of Washington, though at times it seems the focus does get misguided to the point that a portion of this could have been edited out.
Since Washington’s moral compass is pointing all over the place, a John Goodman cameo as his “provider” instigates a mature Big Lebowski and/or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas type atmosphere. In other words, despite the dire nature of the overall situation, this is trying to inject levity (train-wreck fun). That said, at times it can force the issue, for the attempts can come across awkwardly.
Overall, Flight is just a solid performance that takes three plot points and weaves them into a gripping and emotionally provocative story. Washington is on top of his game and the screenplay structure and delivery is riding parallel with him.