Pilot Whip Whittaker (Denzel Washington) is a highly functioning alcohol and drug user, but when a plane he is in charge of crashes, the investigation threatens to throw Whip’s entire way of life into chaos.
Flight is a strange sort of movie, and often struggles with what it is trying to be. Therefore, like the plane that so spectacularly crashes at the start of the film, it often ends up nowhere.
Denzel Washington is on great form as Captain Whip Whittaker. While he is never showy about “acting drunk”, he certainly makes great mileage out of Whip’s arrogance and corruption. That said, the performance is lacking the nuance that makes Whip a character that the audience wants to succeed, leaving us ambivalent about his fate, and this translates throughout the film. Yes it can be argued that Whip is not a clear-cut character, and that addiction can take hold of anyone but the character needed to be more tightly written to allow this to come across. As it is, Whip comes off as arrogant while high, rather normal while sober and a nasty drunk. Why anyone would root for him is baffling.
Don Cheadle is completely underused as Hugh Lang, Whip’s lawyer, but Bruce Greenwood gets a chance to shine as Whip’s old friend and defender Charlie Anderson. John Goodman is fantastic as Harling Mays, but since he really is the deus ex machina, it sometimes feels as though he has wandered in from another film. Goodman is also sporting his ponytail from Community and some very Dude-esque clothing, which adds to the humour he brings, but adds to the feeling that he does not belong here. Kelly Reilly is little more than a fellow addict and a foil to Whip’s dogged drinking.
Director Robert Zemeckis does not appear to be sure of the film he was trying to make with Flight. The result is part disaster movie, part moral and spiritual fable and part addiction story. It’s an odd combination that does not always work well on screen. What does work, however, is the spectacular crash at the start of the film, it by the time everything is resolved, this incredible and tense scene has been lost in the clouds of a bumbling and meandering story.
Flight does not know what it wants to be, and therefore the audience is never quite sure what it is they are watching. Washington is not given the chance to carry the film, since his character is so broadly painted, and his moments of greatness are few and far between. This should have been a tense film that examines the lives that we lead, but instead it only has moments of greatness, the rest is messy and near incoherent noise.