Monday, 28 January 2013

Flight, dir. Robert Zemeckis, wr. John Gatins, st. Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood, Melissa Leo

Zemeckis' first R-rated film is announced by a rather gratuitous full-frontal shot of Katerina Marquez (Nadine Velazquez), a flight-attendant who wakes up next to pilot William "Whip" Whitaker after an all-night bender of drink and drugs. That Whip goes on to fly a dangerously unmaintained plane that breaks up in mid-air, forcing Whip to execute a heart-stopping manoeuvre and crash-land the aircraft, thus saving the vast majority of the passengers, doesn't stop the authorities from investigating his substance abuse, unrelated as it might be to the accident. Flight clearly aims for Leaving Las Vegas-levels of bleak authenticity and thanks to a predictably engaging and absorbing performance from Washington, very nearly succeeds. Portrayals of spirals into ever self-destructive behaviour rarely fail to stir the emotions, and through Washington, an actor entering his autumnal years with the heavy weight of experience behind his eyes, Whip's history of self-deceit and personal relationship-failure resolutely convinces. However, this being a Zemeckis movie, we are never far from an empathic Alan Silvestri score, or the soft-peddling of some of the more difficult thematic elements. The crash-sequence itself, a bravura feat of film-making that begins at 30,000 feet, is depicted in all its first-person horror (we only see the crash externally from smartphone footage on the news), and the relationship Whip tentatively engages with with fellow addict Nicole (Reilly) is touching in its own way, but the film's last act sacrifices narrative resolution for dramatic closure, tidily tacking on a trite redemptive prediction that, whilst neat, undoes much of the drama that's gone before.