Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Movie Review: Flight

If there’s one thing I love in a story it’s the presence of an undoubtedly flawed individual who is the absolute best there is at what they do. In ‘Flight’, Denzel Washington plays a character whose self-destructive behaviour corrupts everything he has, except for his insuppressible talent for flying an aircraft, the character of Whip Whitaker is a simultaneously engaging and repulsive one, his actions come from an altruistic place but are marred by his inability to resist his temptation for alcohol therefore putting the lives of others in jeopardy, this complexity is what makes him such a great character.

Captain William “Whip” Whitaker is an airline pilot with a troubled life. Behind the scenes of his glamorous job Whitaker is struggling against his alcoholism, which has alienated him from anybody and anything he cares about. On what at first seems like a routine flight, Whitaker finds himself at the helm of a situation with disastrous results; using his mastery of flying an aircraft Whitaker lands the plane and is proclaimed a hero. However, the investigation into the cause of the crash threatens to reveal Whitaker’s secrets and take away the last constant in his life, his flight.

The vibrancy of ‘Flight’ peels away towards the middle of the film where it focuses its energy on the examination of Whitaker, it is here where it seems to lose a lot of the steam it brought to the beginning of the picture and becomes something that I would consider not boring but perhaps a little too slow for my tastes, it seems almost too eager to drag its feet as it delves further and further into Whitaker’s troubled life and ignoring the energetic tone it initially seduced the audience with. ‘Flight’ is a much more adult film than the trailers would have you believe, I personally thought I was in for a much less edgy story than I recieved, this isn’t exactly a negative thing but a more honest marketing strategy might have given moviegoers a better understanding of the film they are paying to see, ‘Catch Me If You Can’ this is not. Now that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy ‘Flight’, I very much did, but what I did enjoyed was not what I expected to. The plane crash around which the plot revolves is not the centrepiece I might have imagined, where I found the true enjoyment in the movie was in the interactions of the characters, Washington’s performance is an acting masterclass and he certainly isn’t in bad company alongside his supporting cast. Ultimately the movie’s style is what ended up endearing it to me, it’s somewhat subtle at points, blending into the background to help forge melancholic scenes before bursting to the fore to shape the panache of the film’s more assured moments. 

Whitaker looks upon the plane that made him both a hero and a villain.

I couldn’t do this review without mentioning Denzel Washington’s performance, it has been met with nothing but acclaim and award recognition ever since the film was released, I can disagree with none of this since Washington is just phenomenal in the role of Whip Whitaker. Playing an alcoholic or similarly addicted character can often result in one-note caricature performances, something that thankfully Washington completely avoids, as his take on Whitaker is a man whose life has essentially fallen out of his grasp years previous to the story, divorced from his wife and estranged from his cherished son Whitaker has nothing driving his existence which is why it seems all the more plausible that he has taken to partaking in such dangerous indulgences as drugs and excessive alcohol consumption. Washington’s powerful portrayal illustrates the broken down man that Whitaker is, watching his descent into more extreme uses of the vices that disconnect him from his reality is often quite difficult, however it’s the humanity Washington carries with the character that removes him from our pity and helps us root for Whitaker throughout the story despite his imperfections.

It’s not all doom and gloom though; ‘Flight’ has some genuine laughs to be found in its offbeat sense of humour and surreal situations. Goodman’s scenes provide the hefty majority of these laughs, which if I’m honest are few and far between, though Washington also contributes when he takes time aside from the intense brooding of his character to exercise his potency for delivering a line comically. His timing, by the way, is impeccable.

This movie uses music very effectively, whether it’s The Rolling Stones’ ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ echoing hauntingly up through a stairwell or ‘Under the Bridge’ by The Red Hot Chili Peppers bleeding into the mind of a heroin addict from the background of the scene, every instance adds immensely to the fluctuating tone of the movie and delivers iconic, memorable scenes that I just couldn’t help but admire.

Whitaker's time in front of hearing about the crash is one of the most pivotal scenes in the movie.

A running theme in the movie is that of God’s will vs. free will. Whitaker himself firmly believes in his talent as a pilot and so is quick to dispel the perception that the inexplicable landing of the plane was “god’s will”. Throughout the movie various characters challenge his belief that humans forge their own path in life, one such instance occurs during a scene in a stairwell involving Whitaker, a character named Nicole and a cancer patient, the patient urges Whitaker not to focus on the things in life he can’t control, attributing them as “up to God”. Indeed it is this refusal to accept the presence of higher power in his life that plagues Whitaker throughout the story and forms the basis for the self-transformation that must occur in order for him to feel whole again.

In the way of supporting performances ‘Flight’ once again shows vigour. Both John Goodman and Don Cheadle prove very capable counterparts to Washington’s Whitaker as they portray the characters Harling Mays and Hugh Lang respectively. Mays, both Whitaker’s friend and drug dealer, serves as Whitaker’s reintroduction to the world, my one complaint about the character is that after his brief appearance early in the movie he just disappears without any mention until he pops up again near the end. Goodman’s fun portrayal is therefore wasted on a character who despite some enjoyable instances, more or less barely registers in the movie. Don Cheadle puts in a great turn as Hugh Lang, the determined lawyer defending Whitaker in his charge of malpractice; Lang is an assured man who has no qualms in telling Whitaker straight. The clashes between Cheadle and Washington provide some of the best scenes in the movie thanks to the abundant chemistry between the two actors. Bruce Greenwood flies under the radar as Whitaker’s advocate in his fight for his innocence, Charlie Anderson. I saw Greenwood’s character as more of a cipher for the viewer than anything else, he seems to effectively function as the audience’s persona within the story as he sees Whitaker for what he is and yet he still trusts in the man’s better nature just as the audience does. Anderson does eventually receive his third dimension as a character but this occurs too late in the story for him to have any real impact on the course of events.

The great John Goodman is on hand to provide some comic relief. I only wish he had stayed longer.

‘Flight’ could well have ended up as the “plane crash movie” but thankfully it hasn’t. Denzel Washington’s stirring performance gives it credence above a mere disaster movie and makes it a story that is about its characters, about the damage substance abuse can wreak on the lives of well meaning people. ‘Flight’ is a look at a man who thought he had it all in control, right up until he didn’t.

No comments:

Post a Comment