Nov 3, 2012
We should have known not to have much faith in a Robert Zemeckis production. After all, this is the man who brought us Forrest Gump, a celebration of human stupidity and possibly the most insulting mainstream movie ever made. What made us think that his penchant for moralistic corn would be abated?
Flight promises to be, on the one hand, a cathartic ride on a plane nosediving out of the sky, and on the other, a movie whose main character, Captain Whip Whittaker (straight from the Dept. of Heavy Handed Character Names) is a flawed hero with a moral dilemma. We did not expect it to be a manipulative, formulaic, queasily moralistic fable, which is not the same as a moral fable. Flight is moralistic in that cheap, hypocritical Hollywood way that turns an ethical dilemma into banal plot twists which not even the most innocent pollyanna can believe. The plane action is well done, but we expected more plane disaster excitement. Once that is over, the thrill is gone.
If there are saving graces, they are provided by the actors, particularly by Denzel Washington, who delivers a suave, totally credible performance as a highly arrogant and extremely gifted pilot. His arrogance feels multidimensional, and one roots for him despite it. He is fun as long as he drinks, and Washington makes Whip appealingly flinty, suspicious of God freaks. Somehow he doesn't alienate the audience, despite the movie jerking the viewer around over two hours with his inability to stop boozing, for no good reason.
John Goodman is there to deliver comic relief, in a similar role as the one that immortalized him in The Big Lebowski. He does it beautifully. Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood and Melissa Leo deliver the goods, and raise the level of what otherwise would be a Lifetime special. Character actors Tamara Tunie, Brian Geraghty and Peter Gerety (always wonderful) bring up the rear in style. There is one great scene in which Whittaker goes on a bender and he needs to clean up fast. One's hopes for the movie rise, thinking that it may flee out of the worn and predictable and deliver a more ironic, jaundiced outcome. But no such luck: we are taken to a place that seems real and exciting only to be plunged again into a tired narrative of humiliating self-redemption. Whittaker cannot be a hero unless he confesses to all his sins and finally accepts he's a drunk. He has to be punished for his excesses. This is not fun. This is a movie that only the Temperance Society can cheer for. It feels like a teetotaling pamphlet from the 1950s. And it bandies God and faith around so much, but not even in an honest, straightforward way, that I thought it was underwritten by televangelists. It's a movie that should have been made under a Romney regime. It feels that fake and old fashioned.
The shoddy script by John Gatins includes an utterly unnecessary love story between Whittaker and a heroin junkie (overacted by Kelly Reilly), and many bad lines of dialogue, such as "My name is Trevor. You saved my mother's life", uttered by a 10 year-old kid. I was riveted by Denzel at all times, but my eyes were rolling so much and so fast at the pat pieties and the leaden cliches, they must have looked just like that plane, upside down.