- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Paramount Pictures
Reviewed by David Medsker
hink of “Flight” as Michael Crichton’s book “Airframe” crossed with the Michael Keaton movie “Clean and Sober,” with some talk about God awkwardly sprinkled throughout. The TV ads are pushing the “Airframe” portion of the story, but really, this is a movie about alcoholism, with an unusually large budget. John Gatins’ script certainly has good intentions, but as we all know, that is what they used to pave the road to hell.
Captain Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is a commercial pilot, and during a short flight from Orlando to Atlanta, he encounters some severe turbulence. His unconventional methods to avoiding the rough air scare his first-time co-pilot Kevin (Brian Geraghty), but Whip eventually finds friendlier skies. Upon descent into Atlanta, though, the plane suddenly nosedives, plummeting to the ground at speeds that will kill everyone on board and lord knows who else on the ground. Whip, however, pulls an amazing stunt in order to stabilize the plane, crash landing it in an open field, saving nearly everyone. The media calls him a hero, but there is one small problem: he was on the tail end of an all-night, coke and booze-fueled bender when it happened, and it is only a matter of time before this information is discovered by the NTSB. The airline goes into overdrive to keep Whip out of the spotlight and from doing jail time for manslaughter, but Whip ultimately becomes his own worst enemy.
The movie’s ‘B’ story involves Nicole (Kelly Reilly), a struggling junkie who meets cute with Whip in the hospital in the second act. Prior to that moment, we see her hard up for rent, scoring drugs from a porn producer friend (who of course offers her the chance to make two grand the hard way, wink wink), and getting harassed by her landlord. It’s all fine, until she leaves the picture at the beginning of the third act, and all that time they spent developing her character seems unnecessary. Couldn’t they have revealed the important parts of her back story in her first conversation with Whip in the hospital, and saved us the trouble of witnessing it firsthand? There is a lean, mean dramatic thriller in here somewhere, but it’s bogged down by distractions like the disappearing Nicole and the nameless terminal cancer patient who interrupts Whip and Nicole’s first meeting (!) to talk about God’s plan and the beauty of life. See, I told you the God talk was awkward, and that scene actually pales in comparison to the one between Whip and co-pilot Kevin in the hospital, which inspired unintentional belly laughs from the audience.
You can see why this movie appealed to Washington, though. Movies involving addicts are Oscar bait, and Washington acts with a capital A here. Whip is a raging drunk, literally and figuratively, and it would be easy to turn him into a caricature, but Washington makes him as believable as the script will allow. John Goodman’s character, however, makes absolutely no sense. As Whip’s longtime enabler and party hound, Goodman looks like he’s playing the hippie twin brother of his character from “The Big Lebowski,” and while his screen time is memorable and amusing, it is completely out of rhythm with the rest of the movie. Indeed, between Goodman’s scenes, the random references to God and his plan, Whip’s drinking problem, and the legal maneuvering by the union to bury the scandal, “Flight” is constantly at war with itself.
That flight sequence, though, is one for the ages, a relentless, terrorizing experience so good that the rest of the movie should apologize to it for not holding up their end of the deal. (Geraghty loses points during the nosedive, though, for his channeling of Bill Paxton in “Aliens.”) Ironically, the moment that Whip lands the plane is when “Flight” begins a freefall of a different kind, and this time, there are no survivors.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
There are only four extras on the "Flight" Blu-ray. There are featurettes covering the origin of the story, the making of the movie, and a detailed breakdown of the movie's harrowing flight sequence. The other bit involves highlights from Q&A sessions. It's all informative and interesting, but also a little dry. Worth a look, but only one.