Carry-on Baggage, by Sarah Brinks
There is no doubt that Flight has secured its place on the list of movies that you will never see on an airplane, and for good reason. Flight is about a pilot named Captain Whip Whitaker played by Denzel Washington who miraculously lands an airplane after a mechanical failure sends it into an uncontrollable nose dive. After the crash it is discovered that he was under the influence of drugs and alcohol during the flight. The crash and Whitaker are investigated to find out what was the real cause of the crash and who is ultimately responsible for the lives that were lost.
Flight is an intense film. The story is intense, the crash scene is very intense, and dealing with the aftermath is intense. I cannot stress enough that if you are a nervous flier I would think long and hard before going to see Flight. It is a good movie that is well worth seeing but the crash sequence is basically the worst nightmare of anyone who has ever gotten on an airplane.
The crash happens right at the start of the film. The flight starts with a very bumpy take off, which immediately makes you nervous. There is a bit of a lull then then the crash sequence starts. You see most of the crash from the cockpit which is different from most plane crash sequences which are usually seen from the passenger’s perspective. I found myself holding my breath through most of it and even tearing up a couple times. It is a well shot sequence that does a nice job of keeping you in the moment while also showing you what is happening on the outside of the plane and in the cabin. A lot of recent action movies get away with poorly shot action by covering it up with fast cuts and shaky camera work, Flight doesn’t do that. Director Robert Zemekis puts you in that plane and make you experience it with the flight crew and the passengers. Again, nervous fliers beware.
Flight is an emotionally turbulent film (if you’ll forgive the pun). You want to root for Whitaker because he is a hero and an extraordinary pilot who saved most of the people on the plane. He is also a terribly self-destructive drunk who cannot get it together even when his life and freedom depends on it. Also the casting of Denzel Washington automatically makes you root for him, because who doesn’t love Denzel Washington? It is so hard to watch him try to stop drinking over and over again and fail over and over again. Flight gives a warts and all look at alcoholism and havoc it can wreak on peoples’ lives.
I’m very happy to see director Robert Zemekis take a break from all the computer animated/motion capture films he’s been making for the last six years and return to live-action. Zemekis knows how to captivate an audience with a well directed action scene. The crash sequence in Flight has the driving intensity that the plane crash in his 2000 film Cast Away had, and was also reminiscent to the scene in Contact when Jodi Foster’s character is in the machine traveling through space. Zemekis knows how to capture raw human emotion and put it on the screen. Zemekis subtly shows how Whitaker’s alcoholism causes him to crash and burn over and over again in and outside the cockpit.
The casting in the film is one of its greatest assets. Washington is always a solid presence in any film. He is very convincing when he has to act drunk and is even better in the scenes when he is drunk but trying to pretend he isn’t. There is lots of bad drunk acting out there but it is not in Flight. John Goodman plays Whitaker’s best friend Harling Mays. He isn’t in the film a lot but when he is on screen he is a welcome comedic presence in a film that has very little levity. Sharp eared movie fans will enjoy the call-back to Fallen during Goodman’s intro. A very sharply dressed Don Cheadle plays Whitaker’s lawyer. Cheadle also doesn’t get a lot of screen time but he does nice job of explaining to the audience what could realistically happen to Whitaker if he is held responsible for the crash. He lays it all out with one line of dialog, “Death demands responsibility.” Brian Geraghty brilliantly plays the co-pilot Ken Evans. Evans is the counter point during the crash scene to Whitaker who stays calm and solves the problem. Evans freaks out and panics. He does keep it together enough to listen to Whitaker’s instructions, but he is clearly the lesser pilot despite being the sober pilot. The weakest piece of casting is Kelly Reilly as Nicole, the recovering drug addict that Whitaker takes in and has a relationship with. She isn’t bad; she just isn’t very believable as a recovering drug addict and cannot really hold her own against a strong presence like Washington on screen.
I hope Flight marks a come back for Zemekis and I look forward to his future live-action films. Flight is an intense film with an incredible cast that are all at the top of their game. It will likely make you pause the next time you find your self walking through the door of an airplane, but I guess that is a sign of the impact that the film has.