Can’t Quite Keep the Nose Up

It is hard to believe that it has been twelve years since Robert Zemeckis has directed a live-action movie.  The director of such hits as Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Forrest Gump has been at the forefront of the motion capture animation movement over the past decade, but now returns to live-action with Flight, a drama that opens with a spectacular plane crash.

The pilot at the helm of the aircraft is Whip Whitaker.  When the plane’s mechanical system fails sending the plane into a nosedive, Whip acts on instinct and manages to land the plane as best as possible in an open field.  He does so in incredible fashion, maneuvering the plane into an inverted position.  Out of the one hundred people on board, only six are lost, and Whip is declared a hero for saving the rest.  Things start to get rocky, however, when it is revealed that the pilot was drunk at the controls.

Washington as Whip WhitakerFrom this point, the movie becomes a story of addiction.  At the hospital, Whip meets Nicole, a woman struggling with her own drug addiction.  They begin living together and, perhaps a result of her seeing a mirror image of her addict self in Whip, Nicole begins to put her life together.  She gets a job and becomes a regular at meetings.  She tries to bring Whip along, but the pilot refuses to face his problem.  As a hearing approaches to examine the reasons for the disaster, Whip’s life continues to spiral out of control.

As it happens, Zemeckis has bookended his animation decade with plane crashes.  His last live-action movie was Castaway, which featured the spectacular plane crash that left Tom Hanks stranded on a deserted island.  Flight’s crash is even more spectacular and intense.  With Denzel Washington at the controls, not only do we get to see the brilliantly realized plane crash, but we get to witness the heroic efforts of a man in a life or death situation.  Sure, it’s fictionalized, but that doesn’t make his flipping the plane on its back in order to stop a nosedive any less mind-blowing.

Never does the movie argue that it was Whip’s drunkenness that caused the plane to fall out of the sky, but it doesn’t let him off the hook, either.  The final two-thirds of the movie deals with the pilot’s alcoholism as we see him climb briefly onto the wagon, only to fall right back off.  There are times in the film when the audience is shocked by the sheer amount of alcohol being drunk and the horrible state his drinking leaves him in, but as far as movies about alcoholism go, Flight doesn’t really break any new ground.  The movie repeats itself a little too much as it moves towards a conclusion that everyone in the audience knows is coming.

The main problem with Flight is that there is really only one way that the movie could end, so there is no real suspense about it.  The fact that the plane crash sequence is so successful and thrilling actually works against the movie as a whole, because the rest of the film just can’t maintain that high level of drama.  Having Denzel Washington in the lead does help some, as he is such a compelling and likeable actor that you cannot help but root for him, no matter how horrible his behavior.

John Goodman is also terrific as Whip’s hippie dealer, but the actor who really stole the show was James Badge Dale.  The former star of TV’s underappreciated “Rubicon,” the actor appears in only one scene as a man dying of cancer.  He is so charming, funny, and spot on in his musings of how there are no real accidents that it is a shame that his scene ultimately does little more than introduce Whip to Nicole, a feat they probably could have accomplished on their own.

Flight’s opening sequence is worth the price of admission alone, but it is too bad that the rest of the movie couldn’t keep up the momentum.

Flight is rated R for “drug and alcohol abuse, language, sexuality/nudity and an intense action sequences.”  Zemeckis puts the animated movies behind him in a hurry as the opening scene of this movie had enough drugs, language, and nudity in it to warrant the R rating on its own.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Flight.