Denzel Washington gives one of the most accomplished performances of his career. There will be many words being thrown around for his performance: subtle, nuanced, layered, powerful etc. etc. But with actors like these you need to watch every twitch of the facial muscle to see what sorcery it conjures. I actually have a problem with films where actors overshadow the story. Why must you come out of the theater and say â€œOh I loved the performancesâ€? It is a movie, not an actor's showcase. It tells a story. No single element should draw attention to itself and the whole should stand above the parts. Of course, same goes for every other department of filmmaking.
The first 30 minutes of Flight is one of the most exhilarating sequences you will ever see on screen. We see the protagonist, Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) as he quaffs alcohol and snorts cocaine before entering the airplane. Then we see the plane taking off and sit petrified with our stomachs churned till it crashes. The opening of his film Cast Away (2000) had a similar crash scene. Then came the TV series Lost (2004). I'm a bit apprehensive to see what Hollywood will do next as far as plane crashes are concerned. I'd calmly ask them to stop. You can be calm too, since this is not a spoiler. This is just the set-up for the rest of the film, which is a character drama. The film's real plot lies in the aftermath.
It turns out Whip is an alcoholic. He is a hero who saved hundreds of people but he is a drunk. Alcoholics make intriguing cases for films to be based on. After all, addiction is one of the most universal human vices. Flight shows him battling, and sometimes not battling, his inner demons. Any form of addiction in its essence is an escape. We learn what Whip is escaping from by descending into the abyss with him.
I loved two scenes in the film, apart from the opening sequence. One is where we see Whip meets his injured co-pilot in the hospital. Their exchange is special and throughtful. The other scene features John Goodman who plays his drug dealer. Whip has to testify in a trial and he comes as his savior in his weak moment. I would not advise you to try this but in the film it is written with precise wry and wit.
I was reminded of some other great films dealing with alcoholism. Billy Wilder's The Lost Weekend (1945) (which won the Best Picture Oscar). Leaving Las Vegas (1995), which features Nicolas Cage's Oscar winning performance and Barfly (1987), which features Mickey Rourke's Oscar snubbed performance, both of which left me depressed. Our very own love-soaked Devdas (2002) and Dev D (2009) are worth recommending as well.
Robert Zemeckis is one of my most favorite filmmakers. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), Back to the Future (1985), Contact (1997) and Forrest Gump (1994) are terrific movies. Death Becomes Her (1992) is possibly the best guilty pleasure ever made. Sadly, his reputation has suffered since he is not making blockbusters or Oscar winners anymore. This is mostly to do with him hibernating from live-action films as he jumped on the motion capture bandwagon with a consistent oath to revolutionize animation films. I was hopelessly in love with The Polar Express (2004) but that's beside the point. The point is some would say Flight is his return to form but to me, it's just a return to live action feature films. Although, I would be lying if I said I'm not waiting for him to return to Back to the Future territory.
Flight is not exactly entertainment. It is a stern character study. I wonder if you'd want to sit down and watch something like this. Probably not but you should. This is a well-made film with a strong performance. Most importantly, the story it tells is about one human being and it is endlessly compelling. More than any other film that is currently playing in theaters.