Robert Zemeckis is back where he belongs: in live action filmmaking – but his long absence from live action results in a movie that is just to long for its story.
Denzel Washington is riveting as Captain Will ‘Whip’ Whittaker, whose brilliant efforts prevent a (as he calls it) broken plane from killing almost a hundred souls when something goes wrong. That he pulls off this miracle while drunk becomes the basis for conflict for most of the film’s two hour and eighteen-minute running time, as the airline and whip’s lawyer try to prevent a hearing from finding that out.
John Goodman shines (in his third supporting appearance this fall) as a happy, drug-dealing friend of Whip’s (‘I’m on the list’) and Don Cheadle also stands out as the lawyer hired to save Whip’s butt.
Throughout the film, Whip is portrayed as a brilliant pilot and thoroughly arrogant human being. He knows he’s just that good in the air and very aware that, even in his fifties, he can get any girl he wants. He’s also a colossal liar – to everyone around him and to himself – when it comes to his drinking and drug use. As far as he’s concerned, he’s choosing to drink and party – if it cost him his family, well then, it was his choice. He can quit any time he wants.
We know that there will come a point when either he will finally acknowledge he’s an addict and an ass, or tip over the edge and never recover. We know that. The film’s biggest problem is that it keeps slamming that necessity in our faces – and then goes too far after that moment, diluting its power and rendering Flight a good film, made with the best of intentions, that misses greatness by fifteen minutes.
That’s how much could be pruned from the film to make it stronger – and heighten the impact of that most important moment when it comes. That’s what makes great performances by Washington, Goodman, Cheadle and James Badge Dale (in a small, brilliantly performed role in a stairwell) so frustrating. It just feels like Zemeckis played it too safe – though Flight is better than most of the mo-cap animated films he’s made over the last decade.
In the end, the performances warrant an A+ but the movie just doesn’t.
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