Movie Information

The Story: An alcoholic pilot manages a remarkable feat of flying that saves a lot of lives, but his condition at the time raises legal and ethical questions. The Lowdown: Despite a strong opening, the film quickly turns into a dramatically dubious "problem picture" about alcoholism. Good performances are not enough to change that.
Genre: Problem Picture Drama
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman
Rated: R

A great many of the folks in Critic Land seem to think Robert Zemeckis’ Flight is worth getting excited about. I think they saw another movie. Despite the fact that I am not and never have been a fan of Robert Zemeckis and do not subscribe to the idea that Denzel Washington can do no wrong (John Q settled that), I still held out hopes that this would be good — in part, because of the reviews, but even more because I don’t actually want to spend two hours and 20 minutes with a bad movie. But there’s something worse than that — spending two hours and 20 minutes with mediocre hokum. And that’s what I got. Oh sure, it’s decked out with a whiz-bang opening (that would be more suspenseful if we didn’t already know how it plays out) and it has a solid cast to give it a boost, but really this is mostly a simplistic take on alcoholism — one that would be better suited for TV. It even plays like a well-meaning TV drama in that — by the one hour mark at the latest — you can not only predict everything that happens, but provide most of the dialogue. However, it’s also the sort of movie that gets cut a lot of slack because it’s “important” — and it makes sure you know it.

The first half hour (everything up through the plane crash) isn’t bad. Some of it is even pretty good, and all of the film is thoroughly professional, if hardly remarkable. The problem is that all of it — except for the setup for the subplot about drug addict Nicole (Kelly Reilly, Sherlock Holmes) — is little more than an elaboration of things we already knew from the film’s trailer. My guess is that it’s the best stuff in the movie simply because it’s the kind of high concept thing — Zemeckis responds to drunk, coked-up Washington saves 96 out of 102 people on a doomed airliner with his amazing pilot skills. It’s when the film gets down to the legal issues and Washington dealing (and not dealing) with his alcohol and drug issues that he seems to be at a loss to do much of anything other than play traffic cop.

This is not entirely Zemeckis’ fault, though. The screenplay by John Gatins (who seems to specialize in movies of an uplifting nature) is a ragtag collection of alcoholism clichés —  few of which feel like they came from someone who has dealt with addicts in an up close and personal manner.  Most of the phrases feel like they were drawn from an overfamiliarity with TV dramas on the topic. The movie does have a few bright lines — mostly delivered by Washington in a manner that makes them seem brighter than they are. One of the odder and slightly disturbing things is that this otherwise largely humorless (another TV drama staple) film finds its comic relief in John Goodman as a ridiculously flamboyant drug dealer. I won’t deny that the film is livelier whenever he’s in it (accompanied twice by the song, “Sympathy for the Devil.” Clearly, the film’s musical choices are rather limited and uninspired), but the whole idea is peculiar at best. I’m not even going to get into the valid question of just how Washington’s character — whom everyone seems to know is an alcoholic — has managed to avoid official detection all this time.

Here’s the thing: You may like the movie. A lot of people seem to. I can’t fault its production values, its impressive crash scene or its performances. But when all was said and done, I found it unpersuasive and uncompelling. Mostly, it struck me as slightly tedious and utterly predictable —  and it felt even longer than it was. Rated R for drug and alcohol abuse, language, sexuality/nudity and an intense action sequence.

Playing at Carmike 10, Regal Biltmore Grande

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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8 thoughts on “Flight

  1. Xanadon't

    The first half hour (everything up through the plane crash) isn’t bad

    No, but between the lingering full-frontal nude shot and Denzel hoovering a bunch of coke off the nightstand inside the film’s first few minutes, I had to chuckle to myself at how hard Zemeckis tries to prove that this time out the gate he can attract Oscar-buzz and be “edgy” at the same time.

    Clearly, the film’s musical choices are rather limited and uninspired)

    If this were the only thing that felt so utterly unimaginative here I’d have been able to cut the movie a bit more slack. Happy to find that we saw the same movie.

  2. Ken Hanke

    I had to chuckle to myself at how hard Zemeckis tries to prove that this time out the gate he can attract Oscar-buzz and be “edgy” at the same time.

    And the sad thing is he — or at least Washington — may get that buzz. I mean, after all, this is an Important Movie, right?

  3. Xanadon't

    If the goal of this movie was to make me crave that bedeviled Kettle One mini bottle every bit as much as our hero, than it succeeded admirably.

  4. Xanadon't

    It’s got me in such a fuss I can’t even get my homonyms right.

  5. Ken Hanke

    We’ll let it pass. I mean you were also just subjected to random shots of dead gators and ‘possums.

  6. DrSerizawa

    Actually I kind of like Oscar bait movies like this because I then get to rise up in righteous anger at the Academy. “How dare you subject us to this smarmy self-important drivel you limousine riding champagne drinking snobs?”

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