Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Short Take: Flight

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

Flight, starring Denzel Washington, is an elaborately produced though ultimately pedestrian melodrama. It’s about a man coming to terms with his alcoholism and other substance-abuse issues. The film’s hook is the irony of his most heroic moment setting the stage for his downfall. Washington’s character is a best-of-the-best airline pilot. During the flight that takes up the film’s first act, he’s both drunk and high from cocaine. A mechanical failure causes the plane to go into an uncontrolled midair dive, but his skill and resourcefulness prevent a crash that would have otherwise killed everyone on board. He’s able to make an emergency landing in a pasture, and nearly all the passengers and crew survive. It’s a miraculous feat that no other pilot could have duplicated. But the subsequent investigation reveals he was intoxicated. He could very well end up going to prison, but the maneuvers of his union’s lawyer (Don Cheadle) ensure that he’s in the clear if he can just hold up through his testimony at a federal inquest hearing. The pressure gets the better of him, and the majority of the film shows his boozing downward spiral. Director Robert Zemeckis does a dazzling job with the opening flight sequence, but the rest of the film feels overscaled relative to the more intimate drama of John Gatins’ script. The script isn’t much, either; it’s mainly just a series of plot complications built around the question of whether Washington’s character will shape up in time for the hearing. Washington gives an earnest, skillful performance, but he never transcends the film’s pat scenario. The only other performance of note is John Goodman’s comic turn as the Washington character’s neighbor and drug dealer. The film is essentially a big-budget, star-vehicle version of a 1970s television movie.

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