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Flight – film review

January 31, 2013


Flying high – a welcome return to reality.

Reviewed on Friday 18h January 2013

john gooodman - flight

Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Written by John Gatins. Starring: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood and Melissa Leo. Running time: 138 mins.

American director Robert Zemeckis has had a chequered history as a filmmaker. Emerging from USC film school in the mid-seventies, he was taken under the wing   of Steven Spielberg and, along with writing partner Bob Gale, co-wrote the Spielberg-directed epic wartime farce 1941 – which was hailed a critical and box-office flop.   Two more financially unspectacular collaborations with Spielberg followed (I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Used Cars – both directed by Zemeckis) – before he finally hit the bigtime with Romancing The Stone. More success followed with the Back To   The Future movies (again co-penned with Gale), Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and     the Oscar-winning Forrest Gump.

Flight marks Robert Zemeckis’s first live-action feature since 2000’s Castaway – following a decade lost in the uncanny valley of CG animation (with such dead-eyed mo-cap fare as The Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol).

Denzel Washington plays Captain William ‘Whip’ Whitaker, an airline pilot hailed         a hero after successfully crash-landing a stricken plane with minimal loss of life. When the National Transport Safety Bureau investigate, it is discovered via a blood test taken directly after the crash that Whip was heavily intoxicated with cocaine and alcohol at the time. Whip now faces the possibility of a jail sentence for manslaughter unless his union-appointed lawyer can cast doubt on the blood test and Whip can curb his substance abuse prior to the hearing held to determine his culpability. Will Whip stay off the booze and remain sober? Or will the demon drink again take hold and finally destroy his career and his reputation?

flight - denzel washington

Denzel Washington gives the performance of his career in Zemeckis’s welcome return to live-action filmmaking. His nuanced performance as a high-functioning alcoholic maintains our sympathies despite the fact he’s on a bender for much of   the time. He’s not an ugly or violent drunk by any means – just a hopeless one. And we desperately want him to get back on the wagon so that he may reconnect with his estranged son and perhaps rekindle his budding romance with recovering smack addict Nicole (Kelly Reilly) and just, well, make something better of his life.

Performances all round are very good with Reilly (looking very much like 80’s singer and actress Ellen Foley!) a standout, Don Cheadle as Whip’s underappreciated but determined lawyer and Bruce Greenwood as Whip’s sympathetic union rep. I should also mention newcomer Nadine Valazquez who plays flight attendant Trina Marquez in her motion picture debut. But it is a manic John Goodman who plays Whip’s drug-dealing guardian angel Harling Mays – his briefcase brimming with all manner of illicit substances of which the late Hunter S. Thompson would be proud – who almost steals the show as the well-meaning Harling. The way he bulldozers his way into     the hospital where Whip is recovering, in order to ply him with drugs and alcohol, reminded me of Danny Aiello’s character in Jacob’s Ladder (particularly the scene where Aiello similarly barges in to break Jacob out from hospital) – although there     is nothing divine about Goodman in this particular instance (despite his heart being   in the right place).

Zemeckis’s direction is as assured as always and Flight is a great reminder of what I’ve always admired about him – particularly the wicked and darkly humorous way he thumbs his nose in the face of political correctness – a subversive trait I thought he’d lost after the flacid Oscar-friendly darling Forrest Gump. Flight is a definite return to the more subversive cinema of his youth (particularly Used Cars) – especially in the way he presents us with a narcissistic central character and dares us to cast our judgement aside and hanker for their redemption.

Do not adjust your set.  Yes this plane is up-side-down.

No, do not adjust your set. Yes, this plane is flying upside down.

I can’t finish this review without mentioning something about the air crash itself. With virtually the whole sequence shown almost entirely from inside the stricken aircraft – it is undoubtedly the most terrifying cinema experience I’ve had in a long long time – made all the more real by the fact that Zemeckis himself is a licensed pilot. And knowing that the man at the controls of the plane has consumed enough drugs and alcohol to kill a small country only magnifies the tension. It is a sequence which   even surpasses the crash we saw in Zemeckis’s Castaway – ‘pure cinema’ at its most visceral.

Some years ago, Dame Helen Mirren was once asked for her opinion on what she   felt where the attributes which made a good film. To which she replied ‘A good film   is a good story well told.’ – a definition which very much applies to Zemeckis’s   latest work. With a compelling screenplay, assured direction and pitch perfect performances, Flight is the first truly great film of 2013 and one which will undoubtedly remain as one of my favorite films of the year.

5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4  – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Palace-Nova East End Cinemas, Adelaide, January 18th 2013.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes right-brained people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies.


From → film reviews

  1. Great write up as always Greg

  2. Even though he won’t win, Denzel definitely deserved the Oscar nomination because he is just great here and keeps this flick ticking, just when it seems to fall on it’s own, two feet from conventionality. Good review Greg.

    • Cheers Dan! Yeah, I was never a huge Denzel fan. But he definitely won me over in this. Thanks for dropping by.


  3. Felt a bit like a daytime tv-movie ramped with big-budget production values to me. Needed a more intimate director? Not a bad film but take out Denzel and what do you have?

    • gregory moss permalink

      Yeah, Ian – I know what you mean about the plot feeling a little like a TV movie at times. However, I did feel the smart direction by Zemeckis elevated the material way beyond a mere TV movie. 🙂

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