It's been 12 years since director Robert Zemeckis last brought a live-action venture to the big screen. This hit-and-miss bout of computer generation has given way to "Flight," a similarly hit-and-miss story about a troubled pilot and the aftermath of a harrowing plane crash.
Expectant moviegoers have been complaining over the trailers revealing too much of the film, which stars Denzel Washington as embattled pilot Whip Whitaker. Really, though, there isn't much plot in "Flight" to reveal. That's not a criticism (I'll get to those later). The film is more about Whip's journey and struggle with substance abuse – the events are just the catalyst.
If there's any credit to be given to "Flight," it's to its actors. The film's biggest asset is its honest and, at times, raw, performances. Washington perfectly walks the delicate line between denial-ridden good guy and desperate wreck, and co-star Kelly Reilly ("Sherlock Holmes") is solid as his determined-but-fragile voice of reason. They (as well as supporting actors Don Cheadle, John Goodman and others) work wonders with the basic plot, finding depth and emotion in otherwise hollow characters.
The screenplay does nothing to help them along, juggling comedy and drama like a novice circus performer – it gets the job done, but it's not very pretty to watch. The few funny moments are driven primarily by Goodman as Whip's no-bullsh*t drug dealer. He shows up a couple of times and does a good job of being his affable but short-tempered self, but his inflections ring false amidst a film largely devoted to the very sobering (no pun intended) topic of addiction.
Another quick comedy side note is provided by a cancer patient staying in the hospital Whip finds himself in post-crash. It's more natural than the show-stopping interludes with Goodman, but it's also the audience's first big tip-off that things are starting to get a little weird. I'm not sure if Alcoholics Anonymous is sponsoring movies now, but from this point forward all of "Flight" felt like one big AA meeting.
Talk of God becomes more and more central to the film from this point, from thematic dialogue to offhand comments and crosses scattered around the scenery. It's strange and a little disconcerting – not because of the subject itself, but because the film seems universally fixated on it. Not a single character offers an alternative viewpoint, and because of this "Flight" comes off as more preachy than it probably intended.
Adding to the controlled confusion is a mix of purposeless conversations, including a particularly laughable confrontation with the wife of Whip's co-pilot, and other extra scenes that were probably best left on the cutting room floor.
With its too-long runtime (138 minutes), "Flight" already comes off deliberately slow without these diversions, which only echo points that were made earlier in the film. Couple these with a blaring classic rock soundtrack that only serves to leech away attention with its obvious juxtaposed placement and "Flight" ends up running with all the smoothness of your average trip to the airport.
It's a shame, really. "Flight" had promise, as evidenced by its cast and their commitment to their roles. But, there's just something canned and artificial about this film. People have already speculated about its potential to earn a Best Picture nod in January, but I just don't see it. "Flight" is simply trying too hard to be poignant.
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