Film Review : Flight
● By Justin Buettner
Whip Whitaker is a drunk, drug addicted commercial flight pilot that manages to miraculously save most of the people on a plane by pulling of unheard of maneuvers during a crash. The media declares Whip a hero but the toxicology report quickly puts the spotlight on him during the investigation. Can Whip conquer all his addictions in time to lie in a federal hearing to save himself from life in prison?
I am a huge fan of director Robert Zemeckis, after all he was the director of Back to the Future, Forest Gump and Romancing the Stone. His track record speaks for itself. Flight is his first live action film since What Lies Beneath which was released in 2000. After a twelve year break I was excited to see what he’d do, and especially with Denzel Washington who is an excellent actor. After seeing Flight I now wish he would have stuck to animated films. Flight is a really awful movie to have to sit through. It was slow paced, uninteresting (with the exception of the actual crash), and focused the story on truly unlikable and unsympathetic characters.
Watching the previews one would come to conclusion it is about a pilot that lands a crashing plane and how he deals with the investigation and scrutiny afterwards. You would be wrong. A majority of the film is about addiction and alcoholism. The actual crash and investigation takes a bit of a backseat in this movie. In fact the main storyline that features the crash aftermath focuses on how they are going to lie and cheat their way out of being blamed for the accident. All the interesting, entertaining, or emotional angles of the crash story are absent and what we are left with is a character study of Whip Whitaker, a fairly cold and awful person.
Denzel Washington actually delivers a fantastic performance in the movie. He is really good at playing flawed and somewhat unlikable characters and yet making an audience care. Casting him as Whip Whitaker is undeniably a smart casting decision. Unfortunately not even Denzel Washington can bring a spark or a slight bit of humanity to this character. A large part of the problem for me was I did not see any change or remorse in this character until the last few minutes of the movie. Usually in a film like this, we see the change of heart in the lead over the course of the story and in the end the character becomes enlightened bringing about a conclusion. They call this a character arch. Flight sorely misses this.
If the lead character is unlikable at least populate the movie with fun and interesting supporting characters, right? Wrong. Flight fails to do this as well. Most of the supporting characters aid a criminal and hold their noses the whole time. They almost look embarrassed or ashamed the whole movie, and who could blame them. The few decent people in the film are depicted as slightly crazy or “Jesus” freaks. In fact the whole use of religion in the movie was odd to say the least. The only character in the movie that had any spark of life was John Goodman’s performance as the drug dealer friend. He pops in for a few scenes and at least Goodman looks happy to be there.
No one in Flight is interested in doing the right thing. This really made me struggle to find the point of the movie. I suppose it could be that lying and addiction are bad, but shouldn’t there have been a deeper meaning to the movie than that? I wish the film had put more purpose in the story. I wish the movie was paced and structured in a way that really put a lot of pressure on Whip, at least that could have better explained his abuse. Instead Whip isolates himself on a farm and the leisurely pace of the movie gives the impression that everything is quite laid back. Aside from a brilliant crash, the film is devoid of tension.
The actual plane crash is riveting. Zemeckis proves he knows how to shoot an exciting plane crash as I thought the crash in his earlier film Castaway was brilliant too. The mounting pressure as the people around Whip panic really adds to the tone and tension of what feels like a legitimate plane crash. The moments before impact are haunting. The sound design during the crash scene that involves the silence of the plane gliding adds to the eeriness. If you have a fear of flying this will only cement your decision to not board a plane. Well done.
However one small scene does not make a movie, and as awesome as the crash is the movie is a chore to sit through. It is just depressing. If you are a fan of addiction movies like Leaving Las Vegas and Requiem For a Dream perhaps Flight will be your type of movie. Most film goers will find the negativity hard to sit through I fear, and even Denzel Washington’s strong performance is not enough reason to watch this movie. After all you can see a more entertaining movie that features a performance every bit as good in Safe House released earlier this year. Flight is easily Robert Zemeckis’s worst film of his career, which means it will probably win the Academy Award this winter.
Films like Flight : Leaving Las Vegas, Requiem For a Dream, and Walk the Line
Justin Buettner is Style's resident movie dude! How did he get this role? Well, he graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a Bachelor of Arts in film Production and a duel minor in Animation and Business with an emphasis in the entertainment field. He later went on to work on several independent films in various key roles including writer and later worked in the special effects field as a motion capture artist. He has since relocated to the Sacramento area with his family and continues writing for small independent films in addition to his movie reviews for Style Magazine.