I’D EXPECTED THE same old, same old from Denzel in this his latest offering, “Flight”. But I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t “Unstoppable” or “The Taking of Pelham 123” on a ‘plane. You know, the ordinary, somewhat flawed man who rises to a moment of supreme heroism (with an accompanying triumphant score).
Yes, he did manage to do what no-one else could possibly do (way upping the triumph of landing an aircraft on the Hudson) by averting a sure-fire crash by flying upside down, averting hitting a densely populated area, and crash landing on a nearby field, thereby saving 96 of the 102 passengers and crew.
Problem was, he was drunk and high.
It’s a film about addiction.
Denzel’s character, Whip Whitaker is a smooth talking dashing hunk of a captain (he’s getting jowly, but still looking good) who just happens to be a chain smoking, coke snorting, bourbon drinking wreck. He’s alienated his family and as the story unfolds, alienates his close friends and eventually his (ex-addict) lover (the English actor, Kelly Reilly).
Director Robert Zemeckis, who has certainly brought us some gems – all the “Back to the Future” movies and the eminently watchable “Castaway” – isn’t one to offer up too much nuance. Captain Whip’s addiction is a sort of alcoholic’s anonymous “how to” guide. First acknowledge that you’re an alcoholic; then hit rock bottom…only then can you begin to get back on the road to salvation. Whip lies to himself, lies to others and just can’t beat the addiction even as others around him (including a phoned-in performance by Don Cheadle as a company lawyer) try to protect him.
Zemeckis offers us a (somewhat specious) theme of deconstructing and finding what’s true. Is the truth the fact that he saved pretty much everyone’s life through his heroics or is the truth the fact of his addiction? How do you balance those truths, even as it’s up to Whip to face his own truth.
And face it he does in a moment of pure Hollywood drama.
Denzil is one of those actors who always manage to suggest that there’s an underlying decency in his broken characters, struggling to emerge into the sunlight (which thankfully stayed submerged in “Training Day”). It’s what keeps you on the character’s side, even as he’s pissing off everyone else.
And, despite its obvious Hollywood-ness, it’s what makes “Flight” a supremely watchable film. Indeed, like any flight you’ve ever taken, you know exactly where it’s heading. And getting there is a pleasant enough journey.
Look out for John Goodman in it – he revels in the roll of the good-time drug dealer. Whenever the movie dips, he brings it back, you could say, high.