Flight is the story of airline Captain Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington). The film opens with Denzel awaking in a hotel room with a Brazilian supermodel. They’ve been fooling around. He’s drunk and probably high, but his phone is ringing. He is being called to fly a commercial airliner from Orlando to Atlanta. He doesn’t look good... but one line of coke later and the soundtrack kicks out “It’s Gonna Be All Right” from Gerry and the Pacemakers and Denzel is good to go.
Denzel wakes up a few minutes later as the plane starts a nosedive. The hydraulics have failed and the plane is headed straight down. To save the plane, Denzel inverts it and flies upside down, which lets him straighten the plane just long enough to glide it in for a survivable crash. Only six people die.
Denzel wakes up in the hospital. Despite saving 105 people with a maneuver that we are told no other pilot could have done, Denzel learns that he’s suddenly the villain because the NTSB has taken a blood sample and found that he was super drunk and high on cocaine. They want to send him to jail. This will all happen at a final NTSB hearing. Fortunately, Denzel’s lawyer gets his toxicology report suppressed, so all Denzel has to do at the hearing is deny that he was drunk. But when the NTSB decides to accuse one of the dead stewardesses of having drunk the vodka, Denzel grows a conscience and announces that he drank them and that he is an alcoholic, even though this means decades in prison for him.
Why This Film Stunk
Directed by Robert Zemeckis, this film won some awards and made $161 million on a $31 million budget, but I still despise it. Why? Well, for starters, the plot I described above sound pretty good, doesn’t it? Sure it does, only I left something out. The plot I described above takes up about 15 minutes of film time... but the film is 138 minutes long. So what happens in the other 123 minutes? Filler.
But that’s not even the worst sin in the movie. The bigger sin is the feeling that the whole thing is nonsense. It’s clear that whoever wrote this has no idea how the NTSB really works. They had no idea what brought down the plane or how to describe it to the audience. They had no idea what the NTSB does when it investigates. They didn’t seem to realize that the NTSB would be much more interested in finding out why the hydraulics failed than they would be in proving that Denzel had been drunk and high when he saved the plane. The sad result is that what could have been an interesting mystery about a plane crash with a good deal of tension as the question of his sobriety waits to be discovered at any moment turns into a nonsensical witch hunt in which the NTSB doesn’t care at all about what caused the plane to crash.
Nothing else makes sense either. The press seems to view him as a villain even though they apparently don’t know about his being intoxicated – as far as they should be concerned, he worked a miracle. Denzel has a friend (John Goodman) who can show up seemingly instantly and at will to give him drugs. After drying him out for a week, Denzel’s lawyer and best friend put Denzel into a hotel suite the night before the hearing. They have carefully removed all the alcohol from the minibar. Yet, magically, in the middle of the night the adjoining door to the next suite just happens to open, letting him into the empty neighboring room where he discovers the minibar and he goes hog wild; he goes to the hearing drunk and high on cocaine. Queue Gerry and the Pacemakers again.
Then we have the ending. The NTSB has been after Denzel, or so we are told as we never actually hear anything except through Denzel’s friends... show don’t tell, folks. But Denzel’s lawyer has gotten the toxicology report suppressed. So there is no alcohol issue anymore the NTSB can use to get Denzel. So they should now focus on the plane crash, right? Nope. The NTSB now seems determined to accuse a dead stewardess of being an alcoholic and having drunk the vodka Denzel did. Why? What does the NTSB care if a stewardess was drunk (a stewardess who was a heroine because she saved a boy who had slipped out of his seat when the plan inverted)? This is nonsense. The real NTSB will want to know why the plane crashed, not if a stewardess was drunk. Moreover, they will know that Denzel was drunk, even if they can't put it into the report. So why smear a stewardess? Further, as Denzel has been established as being both ultra-selfish and desperate to avoid prison, why would he care if they accused her of drinking the three vodkas? There is no way that draws a confession from him.
Take for example, the use of “It’s Gonna Be All Right” whenever Denzel cokes up and suddenly fills with energy and confidence. This has the feel of having been done a million times. The scene with the evil boss, the portrayal of alcoholism, John Goodman’s entire character... these are all things you’ve seen a million times before and none of them feel fresh.
I like Denzel. I like Zemeckis too. But this was a disaster. It was boring. It was stupid. The only good bit was the airline crash itself, which was impressive CGI work, and they even had to ruin that with an impossibly clear “cell phone” video of the crash.