140 Minutes, 2012
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Starring Denzel Washington, Bruce Greenwood, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly and John Goodman
Flight is a simple story about a complex man. This was a fictional film that came very close to earning Denzel Washington another Academy Award. While this is a very tough year for award performances, and I have loved the work of Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln and the cast from Les Miserables there was a complexity and a sense of overwhelming despair in Flight. Denzel Washington has always played diverse characters, ranging from the kind-hearted bad-ass of Man on Fire (2004) to outright psychopaths as seen in Training Day (2001) and Safe House (2012). My personal favourite performance was in Hurricane (1999). As Hurricane Carter Denzel Washington demonstrated an intense vulnerability and huge changes in his character with almost no visible effort. However, that was fourteen years ago, and his character of Whip Whitaker in Flight is perhaps the closest he has gotten to that level of emotional intensity since.
Some viewers may watch Flight for the spectacular crash sequence. It should be noted that the crash only takes up the first Thirty to forty minutes of the film. The next one hundred minutes is the breakdown of Whip. The majority of this film is about a man possessed by alcoholism to the point where he barely registers as a person. He is owned by his disease and lives a life of lies and cover ups that internally eat away at his psyche. There is no grand standing speeches and the subtle change in this character in the final moments of the film where he finally drops the facade of lies would be a powerful moment in any film. In this moment Denzel Washington moves into an emotional honesty that is beyond most actors. All he does is shift his gaze momentarily and before our eyes it’s almost as if we see for the first time the man behind the alcohol. In this brief moment the character goes through a total transformation where he moves from a point of despair in which he has to go to drastic measures to escape his demons to a point of hope in a simple but powerful question that ends the film.
While the performance carries the film and Robert Zemeckis returns to his roots of humanist film making as seen in Contact (1997) and Cast Away (2000) where he pushes his characters through such ordeals that they arrive at a place of unknowing where they are in the world. These are very powerful ideas and amazing character moments that Robert Zemeckis gets little credit for. Zemeckis is often perceived and rightfully so, as a visual effects based film maker. Beyond the special effects of Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) and even Beowulf (2007) and Back to the Future (1985) there are still tragic and isolated characters at the core of his films who seem to exist outside of their time and place and questioning their identity.
Flight has unfortunately been and gone in Australian Cinemas but it is a must see film on DVD or Blu Ray. It is a heavy film but it is worthwhile if you have any interest in stories of the human condition.