Film: Denzel Washington’s talent continues to soar with ‘Flight’

By Will Ashton |
Flight | Directed by Robert Zemeckis | Rated R
RATING: 3.5/5

When it comes to A-list actors working today, Denzel Washington is one that seems to strike the best of both worlds.

Besides the occasional mediocre film (Safe House, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3), Washington often gives strong performances in solid films, rarely pushes himself out into the public spotlight, and has a strong audience that bring money to his films on a regular basis. Even as he gets into his sixties, he still has a strong presence at the box office.

Based on his latest, award-worthy performance in Flight, he deserves it.

Mere hours before his flight is scheduled to take off, William “Whip” Whitaker (Washington) prides himself in a hotel room next to a flight attendant after a long night of sex, drugs and alcohol. Whitaker is the captain of the airplane, and a severe alcoholic. Unable to control his addiction, he finds himself drinking still as he gets ready for work, despite already being drunk from the night before, and snorting coke as a remedy to keep himself stable.

During takeoff, the plane begins to experience turbulence. Suddenly, the aircraft is in a nose-dive. Not able to keep the plane in the air, Whitaker performs a daring feat by rolling his plane and maneuvering it in as safe of a crash landing as possible. When Whitaker wakes up from the crash, he is greeted as a hero, saving many lives and performing a near-impossible challenge. But his celebration is quickly put into question, as evidence begins to follow through that alcohol and drugs were in his system, questioning whether he was involved in the crash itself.

The first half of Flight was easily leading itself up to be one of my favorite movies of the year. Director/producer Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump), after years of trying to push his creepy motion-capture animation in movies like The Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol, finally returns to live-action for the first time since Cast Away. Despite having spent a good amount of time away from the format, Zemeckis returns with an easy breeze. He continues his legacy as a masterful filmmaker, as his direction in this movie remains striking as ever.

But the true anchor behind this vehicle is Washington himself. A character-study, focusing on an addict’s journey through remission, Washington is given more dramatic weight than he’s been given in years. To nobody’s surprise, he makes the most of it.

He gives a commanding nuanced performance; one that will very, very likely be nominated for best actor alongside Joaquin Phoenix and Daniel Day-Lewis at this year’s Oscars. Where many showy-or, perhaps, weaker actors-would make this role extremely emotional and flamboyant, Washington is able to give a powerfully subtle and pulled-back performance. With just a flicker of his eyelid and/or a small quiver of his bottom lip, he shows very little, yet says everything. By doing this, he makes the character more grounded and compelling, and therefore more believable.

As these two professionals drive the film, which also includes a good script by John Gatis, it builds itself up to a fascinating and very well made character piece on addiction, and one’s struggle to stop his self-destruction. But as Flight gets past it’s halfway point, it decides to grow preachy in both its message and its heavy-handed religious values.

For the record, religious undertones in a film are perfectly fine to include in a movie. In fact, they can be done very well. But audiences don’t need to get hit in the head with the name of the big G himself in 20 minutes or less in order to remember that this is a spiritual film.

Additionally, the film’s ongoing message about the importance of family and treating alcoholism is nice to remember, but also very familiar. Flight does its best to walk the tight rope of a hard-hitting depiction of alcoholism and the Hollywood idealism of the addiction. Unfortunately, as the film progresses, the movie does decide to saturate itself, and therefore makes the film have less of an impact.

The film never goes bad, with the exception of one short but unintentionally funny scene. It doesn’t strike the irony of making a nose-dive like the film’s ill-fated plane. Yet, as the second half progresses, the movie never completely recaptures what makes the first half of this movie so great. Which is disheartening, because it gets so close to being great. Nevertheless, Washington stays great throughout, and often saves a couple of scenes from overdosing in saturated, cheesy, heavily religious sweetness.

While I can’t call the movie completely great at the end of the day, Washington performance is nothing less of extraordinary. It’s some of his best work in years, mostly because he finally is given a role with this much range once again, and, above all else, is worthy of a view itself.


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