Denzel Takes Flight
As I settled into my seat at the local multi-plex Saturday night to watch Flight, I had already concluded that the marketing department qualified for a fail for not coming up with a better title. Really? This is as good as they could manage? By the end of the film, I realized that this was the sort of movie for which you get the title only after seeing it. It's the other kind of flight, the headlong dash away from reality and toward the destructive spiral of booze and drugs. Aviation is involved only incidentally, although you wouldn't know that from the trailer. Could just as well have been Amtrak or a shipwreck.
Bluntly, this is a movie about addiction, abandonment, despair and utter hopelessness, without much redemption to send the rattled theater-goer back into the street with even a wisp of optimism. If you've seen the trailer, you know the setup: Super pilot Whip Whitaker, played by Denzel Washington, recovers an impossibly stricken airliner to an off-airport landing, saving most of the occupants and, predictably, being elevated to hero. That is until the hagiographers learn that Whitaker was drunk and jacked up on cocaine before he even arrived at the airport. But that, it will be revealed, wasn't a factor in the crash.
This film is excellent and Denzel Washington is, as usual, superb. He could act his way out of a welded steel box. But I can't necessarily recommend seeing this picture. I can't say I liked it. For anyone who has experienced the undiluted hell of profound alcoholism or drug addiction, it is excruciatingly painful to watch because you know where it's going if the script is true to how life plays out with addiction. It is.
If you've been through it with friends or relatives, as I have, it will be difficult to find much entertainment value and once is enough: no recurrency wanted or needed, thanks. I suppose if you've never seen how dark dark can be, the film offers a real enough glimpse. I think the director, Robert Zemeckis, may have sensed the weight he was putting on the audience and toward the end of the film, there's a scene with John Goodman playing a scenery-chewing and enabling drug dealer tasked with reviving Whitaker from a drunken stupor to appear before the NTSB within the hour. It's supposed to be comic relief, but I sensed the audience I was in was too numb to appreciate the joke.
Speaking of the NTSB and the addictions aside, Flight does offer a taste of what it must be like to find yourself in an adversarial relationship with the government after an accident that wasn't—or at least that you believe wasn't—your fault. The crash scene is typical Hollywood, which is to say more than riveting enough to keep the audience engaged. It's the rest of the film that made me want to take flight myself. I'm not panning it, mind you. Just trying not to think about it.