Adult drama that’s not geared for family consumption. Flight, with Denzel Washington in actorly highlight gear as an alcoholic pilot who saves his passenger load with some miraculous flying, has ambitious non-commercial themes. Directed by Robert Zemeckis (“Cast Away”), the film has a deceptive focus to it and engages you enough to the surprising cathartic finale. I say “deceptive focus,” because there were scenes in the first and second act that felt strangely unfocused, and yet, work in retrospect. Kelly Reilly plays a fellow alcoholic/druggie who undergoes transformation, and forgive me if I say she has a few too many scenes of her established at the beginning. The co-dependency attraction between the two of them could have been foreshadowed without all the extra fuss.
So yes. There is alcohol and drug abuse, gratuitous nudity and suggestive sexual situations. Quite a departure for the man who also directed “Forrest Gump” and “A Christmas Carol,” for explicit adult debasement isn’t in his repertoire. And yet this is a mature Zemeckis effort that is mindfully within his range of interest, astuteness and seeming knowledge.
Every few years we get a startling Denzel performance that reinvigorates his range and persona. He is a drinker in this movie to the point that makes him a compulsive liar to cover up his addiction. If you were to ask him if prior roles inform and influence current performances like pilot Whip Whitaker in this one, he would flabbergast with an answer “no.” I believe Denzel is so natural and attuned to people that he only needs to take each role individually without assuming one from the past. Denzel is that good.
That said, his character reminded me of the character he played in “American Gangster,” a morally askew man who denounces redemption but finds it anyway in an unlikely source (in that film, it was prison rehabilitation). The audacious screenplay by John Gatins puts Denzel’s character in a moral predicament: He saved a hundred people by audacious plane maneuvering, but does he need to lie about his alcoholism when he’s interviewed in a NTSB hearing?
“Flight” leads to something of a powerhouse – I was moved by it. Yet something keeps me from fully embracing it. Perhaps the disingenuous humor that is too much or inappropriate, a laboriously displaced moral compass, and a non-succinct running time of 138 minutes. Regardless, in the final outcome this is a noble film that has you debating with yourself its merits. Much of it is brilliant. With Bruce Greenwood, Don Cheadle, Nadine Velazquez, Melissa Leo and John Goodman as a super-happy buzzed enabler to Whip.
Read Denzel Washington and Robert Zemeckis interview: click here.
138 Minutes. Rated R.
DRAMA / ADULTS ONLY / WEEKEND FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Film Cousins: “Fearless” (1993); “Cast Away” (2000); “Half Nelson” (2006); “American Gangster” (2007).