As if landing a plane was a real challenge for Denzel.
Denzel Washington stars as Whip Whitaker, a seasoned airline pilot who miraculously lands his plane after a midair collision, saving the lives of hundreds of passengers. But as more details emerge, Whitaker becomes the focus of the investigation about what truly happened on that plane.
You have to wonder if Robert Zemeckis got as tired as we did watching all of his family, motion-capture movies, because right in the first scene of this movie we see a chick in full-on nudity (yes, pubic hair and all), Denzel slugging down a brew or two, and then, even going so far as to snort a line of cocaine. Pretty shocking to see once you think how this same guy directed The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol, not all too long ago. However, Zemeckis is sick and tired of motion-capture movies (thank God) as well as making movies for families. He’s going back to making the types of movies he wants to make, that are strictly to be seen by people who vote for Oscar nominees Good job, Robert, you got ’em again.
If there is any credit I have to give to Zemeckis, it’s that the guy doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to how he focuses on this character of Whip Whitaker, who, as you may already know from the trailers, is a very, very flawed man. Something else you may already know from the trailers is that there is a pretty intense plane-crash that is as tense and as suspenseful as you’re going to see for a long, long time. The last plane-crash sequence that ever hit me as hard as this was United 93, and before that was probably Cast Away, another movie directed by Zemeckis that shows the guy hasn’t lost his touch when it comes to providing tense, plane-crashes that has you gripping onto your seat as much as the characters in the actual movie are.
However, let me get back to what this film really is about: Whip Whitaker. The most powerful element behind this movie is Whitaker himself, his alcohol addiction, and how Zemeckis allows that to be shown on-screen. Zemeckis doesn’t shy-away from the fact that this guy has a drinking-problem and keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering just whenever this guy will actually kick the addiction, or just simply rot away like many other addicts out there. This would all make it too easy to hate the guy and not give a shit what happens to him, but Zemeckis doesn’t paint it that simply, and makes this more than just a standard, portrait of a flawed-man. It has layers and that’s what’s so important about this movie.
The idea that this guy Whitaker, got onto a plane, drunk and high, but landed it in the safest way possible by killing only 6 people in the whole-crash definitely leaves some food-for-thought as to what should really happen to this guy. Yes, he endangered everybody by putting himself on-board of a plane under the influence of some drugs and booze, but does that really matter when the fact still remains is that he still saved many lives that day and is probably the only pilot that could have done so? This idea and theme that comes on throughout the whole movie leads you to wonder and to think just what is right, what is wrong, and what should happen to this guy who did both, a bad thing and a good thing at the same time. You never know what answer this film is going to end on and you never know exactly what it’s standing on Whitaker really is, but what you do know, is that this guy has some real problems and it’s hard to think about him as anything else other than a dangerous drunk that did a heroic deed, but also an evil one as well.
Even though I may make this film seem like a Sundance-type, character-based drama from the hand of Robert Zemeckis, it doesn’t stay like that and definitely turns into what could be considered a Hollyw0od-type, character-based drama from the hand of Robert Zemeckis. What I mean by this is that for a good hour or so, the film feels very subdued, very subtle, and very ambiguous with where it’s going to go, what it’s trying to say, and how it’s going to all play-out, but somehow, the story loses that and becomes the typical shit we always see from Hollywood. The whole idea of this guy being a drunk, knowing it, and never making excuses for it is pretty fresh to see in a big-budget flick like this one here, but that idea starts to go away as he gets a tad too nice towards the situation and almost feels a bit shoe-horned in. Especially that second ending where it seems like Zemeckis wanted to really have us happy by the end, and give us an ending that sent us away with a smile on our faces and a brighter out-look on life. I’m not the type of person that wants a sad, depressing story that ends on a dark-note, but come on, certain stories don’t deserve to be cheapened-up because big, ‘ol Hollywood says so. Come on, Zemeckis you’re better than that.
And something else that Zemeckis is better at too, is picking good music for his movies and that is something that he does not showcase well here at all. Every single piece of music here is just another song that hits you on-the-nose with what it’s commentating on and how it affects the scene. For instance, every time Goodman shows up, Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” starts blasting as to show us that something bad is coming Whitaker’s way, and should be played more for laughs. Another example that annoyed me to death was the use of Joe Cocker’s “Feeling Alright”, every time Whip decided to snort a line and walk down a hall-way with his signature-strut. Okay, I get it Zemeckis. Denzel is high and is feeling alright, no need to tell me with the use of Joe Cocker’s voice. There’s other examples as well, but these were the two that really got to me and kept bothering me every time they just so happened to be blasted through the speakers.
Where Zemeckis fails though, is where Denzel Washington passes and it’s one of the best performances I’ve seen him give in a long, long time. It’s been awhile since Denzel has actually played a role that’s really showcased him as the powerhouse he is known to be. A couple of middle-of-the-road thrillers sometimes show this, but not the full-extent that this character-drama does and I’m so glad that Denzel is Whip Whitaker, because I honestly don’t think anybody else could have played this role and make it work as well as Denzel does. See, even though the guy is constantly-drunk, doesn’t care about it, knows that he’s bad fool, and knows that he can stop whenever he wants, he is never unsympathetic. For some odd, dumb reason, you still care for this guy and root for him, so much to the point of where every time he picks up a bottle or you see a bottle around him, you gasp or shake your head by how quickly the guy went right back to his old ways.
It starts to get even worse when you think about what Whitaker did before the plane-crash, and after and how it shows that not only is this guy a troubled, piece of garbage, but is also a man that is a hero in a way and used his better-judgement for something that saved the lives of many people on that plane as well. Whip Whitaker is as complex and as three-dimensional as you’re going to get with a character this year, and thanks to Denzel, the guy is watchable the whole time. Denzel is just about in every single scene in this movie and that is not a complaint whatsoever because it is a thing of freakin’ beauty to watch Denzel just act his off in a way that’s unlike anything we’ve seen before. We see everything in Denzel’s acting-skills come out here for show, like when he gets mad, or when he gets sad, or when he gets happy, or when he’s just being the coolest, sliest, mother ‘effer in the whole film. Honestly, I could go on and on and on about Denzel and how great he is here as Whitaker but to not bore the hell out of you, I’ll just leave it at the fact that Denzel may very well be looking at an Oscar-nom come later this year, which is something I cannot wait for. Even though he may not win, I still think he deserves that damn nomination because he is absolutely terrific here.
Denzel’s supporting cast is also pretty damn good, too, even though none of them really rank-up to the type of “Oscar-caliber” that he does. Kelly Reilly co-stars as a strung-out junkie that meets and sticks with Whitaker for the most-part, and is a very interesting character to watch as we see her cope with her own, personal demons, as well as Whitaker’s as well. They both work very well together, and I think that Reilly deserves more roles like this even though I was a bit suspect of her Southern, Georgian accent. Don Cheadle brings a lot of power to his role as the crack lawyer that’s brought to protect Whitaker from serving any type of jail-time and does exactly what you’d expect of the guy: act his ass off. Still, I wish that Cheadle would up his game again and see what he can do with leads again.
Bruce Greenwood seemed like the most interesting character out of the whole bunch because his first-scene with Whitaker really had me tearing up by the end of it, because it showed the level of friendship these two have and how Greenwood stands beside him the whole-way. I wish that more of the film was like this one scene, in particular, but damn was it still great to see and witness. John Goodman does exactly what he did in Argo, and steals just about every scene he’s in and gives some of the funniest lines in this whole drama. Then, the one that really surprised the hell out of me was the small-cameo from James Badge Dale as a cancer-patient who shares a smoke with Denzel and Reilly, and gives the type of role that makes you think about him, long after he’s gone. It’s not just how he acts is what makes us think about the most, it’s what he says and how the reoccurring theme of God and the actions he bestows onto continues to play-out throughout. It’s a role that deserved to be as long as it was, mainly by how powerful and though-provoking it was left as.
Consensus: Robert Zemeckis definitely loses himself by the end of Flight, mainly because he gives into what Hollywood likes to consider “happy”, but still features a top-notch performance from Denzel Washington, in one of the best character-studies of the year and in one of the better performances I have seen so-far. Not a perfect movie, but still a very good one none the less.