Like director Robert Zemeckis’ last live action feature, Cast Away, Flight contains one of the most harrowing plane crash sequences ever shot. Every sound effect rattles. Every second quickens the pulse. The construction of this one scene is masterful. The tension building, the increasing stakes, and the acting are almost perfect. Flight is almost worth seeing just for this one scene. People afraid to fly should definitely not see this movie. In fact, people in general should not see this movie.
The movie opens great, but after the heroic crash sequence the film becomes a ham-fisted bore. Denzel Washington plays the plane’s captain, Whip Whitaker. His quick thinking saves a lot of people, but he’s also an alcoholic cokehead with a lot of explaining to do. After Whitaker’s encounter with a junkie, played by Kelly Reilly, the two begin an unconvincing relationship. In a flash, she’s staying with him, then cleaned up and then moving right on out because Whitaker refuses to change his ways. This all happens within a week of the accident and we’re expected to care. I might have, had it been handled in an interesting way, but it’s all dramatically inert.
There’s an investigation into the crash, which allows Don Cheadle, John Goodman, Melissa Leo and Bruce Greenwood to pop up for a few scenes. They’re all fine actors, but there’s little for them to do in this painfully strained script. It all turns into a question of whether or not Denzel can keep his shit together long enough, but with a lot of preaching in between. I should state that I believe AA is a good thing that helps a lot of people, but I don’t think a movie should feel like a meeting that just won’t end. If that wasn’t enough, the movie douses the screen with heavy-handed Jesus freak-ery. The plane crashes into a church, a terminal cancer patient espouses his beliefs, and there’s plenty of “act of God” talk. Praise Jesus if you want, but try to be a little more subtle about it. Watching Denzel act like an asshole for 2 hours has never been less entertaining. It’s an okay performance but it feels like he’s only playing two shades, drunk and sober.
The film has a strange, forced grittiness that also grates. An extended nude scene for no apparent reason or when the junkie goes to get a fix at a porn shoot, it lacks authenticity. It’s like a Sunday school reenactment or one of those pamphlets inside a high school counselor’s office, cheesy enough to make you ignore the positive message. The obvious choices carry over to the ridiculous soundtrack. Really Mr. Zemeckis, “Under The Bridge” to intro the junkie? It’s terrible telegraphing. When two annoying people sitting next to me simultaneously call out the final line of dialogue, because a 4th grader could see it coming, you have a problem.
There’s nothing wrong with a sincere movie trying to put out a positive message (see Cloud Atlas), but that movie should have believable characters and situations, and it probably shouldn’t come off as weirdly pro-cocaine. It’s like they put all their effort into the crash and then forgot to craft a movie to go with it.