Flight (2012)

Director:  Robert Zemeckis
Cast:  Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Don Cheadle
Plot:  An airline pilot saves a flight from crashing, but an investigation into the malfunctions reveals something troubling.

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  Nom. for 2 Oscars - Best Leading Actor, and Best Original Screenplay.
Runtime:  138min
Rating:  M18 for drug and alcohol abuse, language, sexuality/nudity and an intense action sequence.

“I drank the night before the flight.”

If flight gives you a sense of wonder, it also gives you a sense of boredom.  Imagine if you are a bird flying - you soar in the air, enjoying the freedom it gives, but if you have been flying for years, flight becomes... stale.  This is the feeling I get from Robert Zemeckis' new film, the conveniently titled Flight.

The film has its moments of great tension, a premise that seems curiously intriguing, but it generally feels like an average picture peppered with conventions and an overbearing moralizing focal point.

Starring Denzel Washington as Whip Whitaker, an alcoholic airline pilot who saved many lives by performing an absolutely crazy maneuver to stabilize his plane after it lost control midflight, eventually crash landing it in an open field with minimal fatalities.

The film focuses on the aftermath of the crash as an investigation ensues, with the relevant authorities paying close attention to Whitaker's alcoholism, a theory put forth as one of the reasons that caused the crash.

Washington's performance is reliably solid, whether portraying a man in a drunken stupor, or one whose conscience is invariably clear.  The problem comes with the heavy-handed direction of a screenplay that leaves subtlety to the winds.

John Gatlins' script, surprisingly nominated for an Oscar, treats Whitaker's alcoholism as one-dimensional.  There are no shades of grey, only what's black and what's white.  As a result, the drama tries to mask the film's simple-ness by portraying itself as a pseudo-complex character study.

Zemeckis' return to live-action filmmaking, after spending most of the last ten years dabbling in motion-capture animation with films such as The Polar Express (2004), Beowulf (2007), and A Christmas Carol (2009), is more or less uninspired, save for the exciting (and terrifying) plane crash sequence in the first twenty minutes, a segment that maximizes tension through the brilliant use of the camera, highlighting terror and dread in equal measure.  The rest of the film pales in comparison, with the proceedings struggling to reach a satisfying level of dramatic intensity.

Flight tries its best to entertain its audiences, but ends up being too overt in what it is trying to say.  Whitaker's character, while well-developed to some extent, fails to move past the circumstances that surround him.  He does not come into his own, with the screenplay treating his character flaws as stagnant.

With Whitaker's character flaws driving the bulk of the film, it appears that Zemeckis is trying to make a feature-length advertisement on the perils of alcoholism.  I am afraid this is not exactly a return to form for the filmmaker who has given us Back to the Future (1985), Forrest Gump (1994), Contact (1997), and Cast Away (2000).

Verdict: Zemeckis' return to live-action filmmaking leaves much to be desired in this conventional and occasionally uninspired tale.


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