Senior Editor Peter Suderman reviews the new Robert Zemeckis airline drama Flight in today's Washington Times:
If the filmmakers behind “Flight” were really interested in an accurate one-word title, they might have called their movie “Booze.” The movie’s true subject isn’t flying but drinking, and the personal will it requires to stop — or not.
Although it initially presents itself as a legal drama about a defiantly drunk pilot who makes a miraculous crash landing, it eventually resolves itself as a more intimate drama about overcoming a drinking demon.
The disconnect makes “Flight” a frustrating, wildly uneven film — packed with muscular acting and more than a few crackling scenes, but tonally inconsistent and unsure of where it wants to go or what it wants to be.
Like the failed flight that becomes the movie’s centerpiece, it stays in the air longer than it should through spectacular acts of individual performance, but still comes apart at the end.
The movie’s first hour is its strongest. It starts in an Orlando hotel room as a commercial airline pilot, Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington), rises from a night of heavy drinking and decides to top it off with a few more drinks and a line of cocaine. He then proceeds to fly a packed commercial jet bound for Atlanta — until it takes a nosedive into a field.
Whip’s heroic piloting — he flips the plane upside down to slow the descent — allows all but six of the plane’s crew and passengers to live. It’s a tense, masterfully executed sequence. And it sets up the film’s central question: Is he a hero? Or a dangerous drunk?