Film Thoughts: Flight (2012)

by Jamie Downes

Director – Robert Zemeckis

Stars – Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly

Genre – Drama

Length – 138 min

If an airline pilot is under the influence of drink and drugs when his plane suffers a catastrophic technical failure of which he has no control, but uses his professional prowess to miraculously save the lives of over a hundred passengers, is he a hero?

Such is the question that Robert Zemeckis’s film about an alcoholic pilot could, and arguably should have pondered, no doubt instigating heated debate amongst audiences in the process. Instead, Flight is a more personal narrative, that while frequently gripping, is often too focused on driving home the destruction caused by an already established addiction, rather than intelligently exploring the impact of the incident itself.

Flight resides in a fittingly dark space for the most part, but at times, it’s as if those involved in developing the story relied too heavily on booze themselves, with the inclusion of John Goodman’s eccentric drug-dealer threatening to turn the film into something resembling a semi-serious British underground flick, the like of which generally star Vinnie Jones. An apparent attempt at comic relief, Goodman only serves to break immersion and soil the serious tone present in his – thankfully, commonplace – absence; supporting actress Kelly Reilly’s visit to her drug supplier on the set of an adult-movie early in proceedings, another bawdy and unfunny attempt at humour that not only doesn’t fit with the scenes around it, but also demonstrates a complete disregard for subtlety. It must be said that this ‘in-your-face’ attitude isn’t just confined to the jarring comedic endeavours either, with the film not averse to bludgeoning its message home rather than carefully timing its power-punches for the greatest impact.

Flight is saved from crashing and burning however, by the talents of its lead. The Man – Denzel Washington, if you prefer – carries the film with the kind of assured and believable performance one expects from him, his unlikeable alcoholic offering just enough heart to make the audience always cling to hope for eventual redemption, even if the thread they hold becomes dangerously taut at times. Reilly also deserves a mention. While this wasn’t her story, the actress’s fine portrayal of a vulnerable alcohol and heroin addict attempting to get clean in the face of temptation and provocation deserved greater respect than the script eventually gives; her casting aside from the story told, certainly too premature.

While far from perfect, if you can ignore the forced, unwelcome attempts at humour and heavy-handed direction, and forgive the missed opportunity to more assuredly split opinion on a fascinating moral dilemma, Flight is still a good film. The shame of it is, that it could have been a great one.

Rating: 3 / 5

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