Flight tells of the redemption of terminally smashed airline pilot Whip Whittaker (Denzel Washington, Training Day) after he miraculously saves 96 passengers from almost certain death. Beset by investigations into the crash and his culpability for it, Whip must confront his addiction and the moral dilemmas overshadowing his inevitable salvation.
So, the good stuff: Denzel Washington acts Denzel Washington in fine style, as per usual, in a film which is flawless in it’s cinematography, if somewhat straight-laced in style. The opening scenes have you bolted to your seat – the crash scene is riveting, even as your ability to suspend disbelief is challenged. And… er, on to the bad stuff…
In the beginning, there was hope… A plane in terminal descent saved by a drug-addled superpilot left me spinning with possibilities. Does that mean that drugs are helpful? Now that would be controversial. Does the investigation reveal his drug use, but he goes on to prove he was not culpable and triumph, or do they send him to jail instigating a nightmare leading to his ultimate redemption? Or are we just in for a straight-up addict-gets-what’s-coming-and-it-straightens-him-up narrative?
Sadly for all of us, it was to be the uninspiring latter option. But, wait, there’s more! As if a simplistic addiction/redemption story wasn’t groan-inducing enough, director Robert Zemeckis (Cast Away) felt the need to hit us up in the mainline with redemption via salvation and the AA (that’s Alcoholics Anonymous, not the Automobile Association – though that would have been far more interesting). I don’t think I could have got the message any clearer if I had been battered with a bible, fallen down twelve steps adorned with the visage of Christ and landed in a pile of AIDS infected needles.
I really can’t convey effectively the brick-like subtlety with which Zemeckis handles symbolism. Perhaps the soundtrack can give you some idea, bloated as it is with inanely obvious, er, imagery. Sympathy for the Devil for the evil (but obviously wickedly fun) dope dealer (John Goodman, Argo). A Little Help From My Friends as Whip descends back into addiction. Sweet Jane as the hot former addict/love-interest overdoses. Gimme Shelter to point at trouble to come for Whip. I could list at least another four equally blatant musical cliches.
Had Zemeckis, and writer John Gatins, made it unclear whether Whip was responsible for the crash, we could have had a more interesting story. If they had left some doubt as to how, or whether, Whittaker would eventually do the right thing, then there would have been space to explore. Instead, it is clear immediately that he was not responsible and that somehow God will save him. It is also clear immediately that an extended face-palm is in the offing. The fact that I haven’t even mentioned the part of Nicole (Kelly Reilly, Sherlock Holmes) should intimate exactly how irrelevant it is. All this from the director who made one man with a ball on an island utterly riveting. Jeez…
There is no secular sense to the conclusions of this film; for what is Whittaker being punished? He wasn’t culpable for the crash – in fact, he is responsible for saving many lives. If the accident suggests anything, it is that perhaps we should start making cocaine mandatory for pilots (I’m just saying…). No, he is punished and ‘saved’ for the degenerate life he led. The plane crash is merely God’s tool to realize Whips salvation. There is so much here that illustrates why religious morality is in fact immoral and repugnant that perhaps I should be grateful, but that it does so with the unknowing ignorance of a sneering evangelist means that only those already liberated from religious idiocy will see it.
In conclusion: I was able to watch the movie through without wanting to take a chainsaw to my forehead, so it isn’t the most terrible movie I’ve seen by a long shot. Sadly, however, as a moral tale of redemption it is disturbingly bankrupt and seeing as that was the entire point of the movie… well, you get the idea. With nothing to set it apart by way of cinematography and a soundtrack that makes you hate songs you love, we are starting to run low on reasons to like Flight. And given that I can see Denzel play Denzel in a whole host of far better movies, our final reason to watch this film has finally evaporated.
Oh, wait! I thought of something I did enjoy! There is a scene where Whip’s buddies desperately need to sober him up for a hearing after a monumental and singularly unlikely drinking binge. How to do it? That’s right – more cocaine. I love it, the only aspect of this addict’s journey that I could identify with.
Overall, though, if Robert Zemeckis wishes to masturbate furiously over a Bible whilst chanting the AA’s 12 steps repeatedly, then he should probably do it on his own time.