The pacing problems kick in half an hour into Flight when Washington as pilot Whip Whitaker is grounded following a horrendous, terrifying crash that leaves four passengers and two crew members dead. That crash sequence is easily the best scene in Flight, after which the film becomes bogged down by the inclusion of too many scenes of a drunk and/or high Whip.
Flight opens with Whip drinking and getting high with a flight attendant just hours before his next commercial flight. His newbie, by-the-book co-pilot (played by Brian Geraghty) is immediately uneasy due to Whip's behavior (he doesn't hide being high well), but no one on the flight crew steps up to stop him from taking the controls. His decision to manually steer the plane through rough turbulence further sends up red flags with his co-pilot - that is until Whip's control of the plane has expertly maneuvered them out of the nauseatingly bumpy air and into clear skies by taking a path contrary to what the autopilot and the air traffic controllers suggested. But as the plane settles into what appears to be a normal flight, something goes horribly wrong mechanically.
Acting against all prescribed procedures, Whip inverts the plane which slows down its descent. His quick thinking saves 100 lives and elevates him to hero status. However, he's well aware of what the toxicology reports will uncover. Fortunately, he's got the pilot union on his side as well as a lawyer (played by Don Cheadle) who's ready to do anything to keep the report away from the FAA.
Meanwhile, Whip continues drinking and angrily denying he needs help. Another crash is on the way, one that Whip may not be able to maneuver his way out of.
The Bottom Line:
Flight contains a few scenes which - for one of the few times in his lengthy, impressive career - I could see actor Denzel Washington playing a character rather than the character he was playing. The moments are few and far between and mostly involve Washington's portrayal of Whip when he's under the influence and hanging out at his family's farm. Part of that could be chalked up to the fact those same scenes have a repetitive feel to them and slow the movie to a crawl. It's absolutely necessary to examine Whip's alcoholism and the toll it's taken on his personal and professional lives, however by overplaying the drunk scenes Flight misses the target of being a serious analysis of the effects of addiction, which is very much what the film wants to be about. Instead, the repeated scenes of alcohol and drug abuse are more likely to make the audience uncomfortable while not serving to further the story.
Once Flight travels past the lead up to the crash and the horrifying sequences inside the cabin as the passengers realize they're going down, the film lands in the world of cliched movie characters. There's the estranged wife and son who've had too many years of dealing with Whip's addictions to be sympathetic to his problems. And then there's the pretty drug addict (played by Kelly Reilly) who tries to convince Whip to go to counseling and/or rehab, and of course Whip is going to refuse to accept assistance and insist he can fight this battle on his own. But the biggest cliche and the biggest misstep of the Flight is the insertion of John Goodman as a hippie drug dealer who actually - I kid you not - enters the film to "Sympathy for the Devil." It's understandable that screenwriter John Gatins (Real Steel, Coach Carter) and director Zemeckis would want to lighten the mood a bit, but Goodman's character isn't the solution. His appearance was like a needle scratching its way across a record, so jarring was its inclusion in scenes.
It's also surprising that after the dramatic build up, the film ends with a whimper rather than a bang. The co-pilot's character arc is given short shrift, and talk about your Hollywood endings...Flight could be held up as a textbook example.
Flight was directed by Robert Zemeckis and is rated R for drug and alcohol abuse, language, sexuality/nudity and an intense action sequence.
Theatrical Release: November 2, 2012