According to the commercials for the film Flight, critics are applauding it. Even the usually inspirational New York Film Festival made it the Closing Night feature which made me more excited for it. Denzel’s even got the cover of The Hollywood Reporter. But sadly, and oddly, this is the weakest work I’ve seen from both Denzel Washington and Robert Zemeckis in a long time.
Denzel floats through this movie, pulling the usual Denzel overbite smiles and scowls, but never able to create a lead character as anything more than a two-dimensional representation of a pilot with a drug and alcohol addiction. The fact that there could even be people like this character out there flying our planes and entrusted with the safety of millions of people, is enough to make you really want to have some insight into this character – it’s the scariest thing about watching this movie, actually. But there’s nothing in this story a viewer can hold onto or even leave the theater thinking about later. This is film better suited to be a cable TV movie. It’s flat.
Some scenes are even (maybe purposefully) laughable. In one, we see Denzel supposedly so hammered on booze he can’t even speak, much less stand up. In another, we see a woman shooting coke to the point of overdose , being rolled out on a stretcher, and then next time we see her in the story she is officially clean. It’s preposterous. If Zemeckis thinks this is what a drug-addled life is like, and what drug-use plays out like in the most terrible of addicts, he’s spent a way too sheltered life. I mean he could have at least done some research; hell, watched Requiem for a Dream, Leaving Las Vegas, anything.
Denzel is a great actor when given the right director (Ed Zwick, Tony Scott, Antoine Fuqua) and this role in Flight was perfect for him. The Hollywood Reporter article even talks about how he prepared for it and his level of interest and discipline in preparing for the role. So, it’s infuriating for me to have to watch him reprise his single tear territory from the Glory days because Zemeckis can’t man up and put his actor in the grit or at least get the thing to be more well-rounded. Zemeckis is better suited to his standard PG-13 fare acceptable for all his caucasian Christian audiences to devour and tout and play for their kids during the holiday school breaks. I’m surprised he didn’t put Tom Hanks in this role. I mean really, why did it even have to be a black pilot who does these such despicable things? Plus, at least we know Zemeckis is capable of getting something tangible out of Hanks.
Denzel too easily becomes typecast to this kind of character (the flawed hero), but he also shines when give the right motivation (e.g. Training Day, Man on Fire), so why couldn’t Zemeckis pull this off like those directors did? And why is no one else seeing the atrocity of this film as I see it?!
Literally everything is wrong in the picture except parts of the flight crash sequence. There’s an odd, hard to read, badly played out few scenes with the co-pilot (before, during and after the crash). The scene after, in the hospital, we get the chance to meet his wife who Zemeckis decided to make an over zealous, cartoonish representation of a devout Christian. It was just ill-fitting in the movie. What is he trying to say? Why all the references to religion in the movie? How convenient and odd is it for the plane to coincidentally crash directly over the congregation of a cultish-like church? It’s like some M. Night concept that was abandoned by him and picked up by Zemeckis, but then never followed through upon.
Don Cheadle is a cold, heartless lawyer for the pilot’s union, of course. John Goodman is there for comic-relief I suppose, although he’s anything but funny (unlike usual). Instead he plays a Beach Boy-styled drug dealer. Again, ill-fitting to the story at hand. If this tells you anything, I actually liked Goodman better in the bit part he had in Coyote Ugly – and that was the last time I didn’t care for a film he was in.
Flight is completely void of any character development to the naked eye. In fact, any development that does happen, apparently happens off-screen and we’re just supposed to be OK with that. If I wanted somebody to tell me a story concisely, I’d just ask the guy at work next to me to tell me how the film was – a movie is supposed to envelop you and make you part of the lives inhabiting the screen. Flight, seems to only care about showing Denzel’s ass and how he can’t stop drinking, but it’s apparently acceptable, because all the alcohol in his system enabled him to think “clearly” during the life or death situation of the film, so that he could pull off a miraculous stunt like inverting a jetliner so that it glides to a softer impact. Right.
Flight tries to be too many things, dealing with religion, the existence of a higher power watching over us, drug use, corporate coldness and union deceitfulness (?), oh and romance, of course. Flight tries so hard, but never actually even gets off the ground.