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Denzel Washington successfully navigates a turbulent role as a pilot with a drinking problem in Robert Zemeckis’s <em>Flight</em>.

Denzel Washington successfully navigates a turbulent role as a pilot with a drinking problem in Robert Zemeckis’s Flight.


Flight

Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, and Kelly Reilly star in a film written by John Gatins and directed by Robert Zemeckis.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

In Robert Zemeckis’s generally bracing and generally fine film Flight, Denzel Washington reassuringly returns to his impressive form, thanks to a role he can sink his teeth and emotional focus into. Denzel is back it seems, thanks to a multidimensional character. On the less reassuring side, said role is one of a flawed-hero type we hope to never encounter in our real lives: the drunk pilot syndrome.

Anyone expecting a standard-brand in-flight disaster flick of the usual, carefully structured sort will be surprised by this film, and pleasantly. A viscerally powerful errant flight scene in the first act, with our hero in heroic mode, sets up the rest of the slower, non-airborne story in the film, as a study of the fall and rise, highs and lows, and eventual resolution of a lost soul.

A nicely pithy and double- or triple-duty title, Flight deals with not only the potential and scarifying fragility of aviation (comforted though we are by a track record better than terrestrial traffic accidents) but also the matter of the reality flight and self-destructive tailspin of substance abuse. At the same time, the film sometimes wallows in the hip appurtenances of decadence, through the presence of one of John Goodman’s swaggering gonzo roles — on the heels of another one in Argo — as a dealer and spiritual/chemical guidance counselor, and Washington’s ability to maintain under intoxicated circumstance (as, say, in the cockpit, when the plane is going down).

What essentially plays out like a cautionary tale — drink in moderation, don’t fly with tipsy pilots, beware the thoroughness of federal investigators — loses some of its emotional power through the old Zemeckis show-biz slickness-and-sentimentality sauce. Where more flesh and grit might have toughened up the impact and the message, we get the softened and detached via the feel-good aura à la Forrest Gump, Cast Away, et al. Maybe that lack of naturalism and believability is a blessing in disguise, a means by which we can reason “it’s only a movie” before contemplating stepping onto a plane.

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For showtimes, check the Independent's movie listings, here.

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