‘Flight’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated November 18th, 2014 at 4:06 am,

denzel washington flight Flight Review

In reality, the film isn’t at all the “action-packed mystery thriller” described in the official synopsis, but a mixture of character study and morality play.

The most memorable movies made by Robert Zemeckis combine old-fashioned storytelling, technical sophistication, and either elements of social satire (Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit), existential musings (Contact, Cast Away) or a mixture of the two (Forrest Gump); however, the ‘technical’ stuff has overshadowed his recent work. In fact, looking back over Zemeckis’ filmography, one might be surprised to note that trend did not begin with his 3D motion-capture projects (The Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol), but with What Lies Beneath – the director’s Hitchockian homage (ripoff?) released in 2000.

Zemeckis returns to pure live-action filmmaking with Flight, which also marks the first non-action/thriller to star two-time Oscar-winner Denzel Washington since he directed himself in the 2007 inspirational true-story drama The Great Debaters. As much excitement as there is among cinephiles to see both the director and actor getting back to their roots, so to speak, there’s good reason to wonder: have their basic dramatic skills grown a tad rusty over the past few years?

Thankfully, the answer is “no.” Flight, at times, threatens to slide off the rails into the realm of implausibility and preachy melodrama, but the mature direction from Zemeckis – coupled with a raw, yet understated, performance from Washington – prevents that from happening. There are traces of Forrest Gump and Cast Away‘s DNA in the storytelling; yet, thanks to a cast populated by seasoned actors, the characters (most of which are residents of the South) feel less cartoony than in Gump. Moreover, Flight confronts the concept of divine intervention more explicitly than Cast Away, yet manages to feel somewhat less long-winded.

Flight tells the story of Whip Whitaker (Washington), an airline pilot who pulls off a miraculous crash-landing after a mid-flight catastrophe, managing to save the lives of all but six of the 102 living souls onboard in the process. Media outlets hail him as a genuine American hero, but Whip shirks the limelight during an ongoing NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) investigation into the cause of the accident. Is there some lurid truth behind what really happened on that plane, waiting to be uncovered? Well, the trailers for Flight would have you believe so.

denzel washington flight trailer Flight Review

Denzel Washington in ‘Flight’

In reality, the film isn’t at all the “action-packed mystery thriller” described in the official synopsis, but a mixture of character study and morality play. The very first scene introduces Whip as a doughy, incorrigible, fellow with a penchant for boozing and sniffing cocaine. He’s practically a laundry list of undesirable traits (divorced, often-inebriated, non-committal), yet he’s also an incredible pilot with charisma and moral fiber – sometimes, even when under the influence. Whip is a character that stretches credibility, for sure, but Washington makes him far more believable than your average cliché bad-man-needing-redemption or onscreen alcoholic.

The utterly-terrifying flight/crash sequence during the opening act is executed with impeccable precision (airplane-phobes, you’ve been warned), but also makes it all too apparent to us whether or not Whip’s behavior contributed to the malfunction. However, the script from John Gatins (Coach Carter, Real Steel) gets a bit heavy-handed there, as it calls for cross-cuts to a separate storyline about a drug-addled woman named Nicole (Kelly Reilly) who simultaneously ‘crashes’ after her latest heroin injection. Nicole is presented as a suitable foil for Whip, but her subsequent arc isn’t as compelling or interesting as his; in other words, the amount of time devoted to establishing her character ultimately feels somewhat unnecessary.

flight washington reilly Flight Review

Denzel Washington and Kelly Reilly in ‘Flight’

Gatins’ script explores both the importance and implications of happenstance and ‘unexplainable coincidences’ in Whip’s life, often in a very unsubtle fashion. What allows these developments to work so well is Zemeckis’ recognition of when to play a beat for comical effect, serious profundity, or some combination of the two. Most of these moments succeed at being on-the-nose, yet sincere and heartfelt (most notably, a hospital scene where James Badge Dale (The Grey) cameos as a rambling cancer patient), while others cross the line into cynicism – such as a bit where Whip visits his recovering co-pilot (Brian Geraghty) only to unwittingly learn that he and his wife are big on Jesus.

The remainder of the cast, as mentioned before, further assist in keeping Flight grounded (no pun intended). For starters, Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek 2) and Don Cheadle (House of Lies) deliver multi-faceted performances as Whip’s old friend and a hired lawyer – who bend over backwards and jump multiple hurdles in order to prevent him from going to jail for flying while intoxicated. Tamar Tunie (Law & Order) likewise hands in a solid performance as Whip’s religious, yet empathetic, co-worker, while Oscar-winner Melissa Leo (The Fighter) once again manages to impress – despite her appearing in just one scene near the conclusion.

However, the scene-stealer here is easily John Goodman as Harling Mays, Whip’s hilariously-crude and undignified drug supplier who enjoys listening to “Sympathy for the Devil” on his iPod (get it?). He’s an unabashedly colorful addition that ends up not feeling at all out of place in the film’s world, thanks to how Goodman plays him – as the sort of ridiculous guy you can imagine meeting in real-life.

john goodman flight Flight Review

Denzel Washington and John Goodman in ‘Flight’

It’s through a combination of down-to-earth performances (with Washington as the anchor keeping them aground) and Zemeckis’ sturdy guiding hand that both makes Flight an engaging viewing experience and prevents Gatins’ script from feeling too melodramatic or forceful. Once again, it ought to be emphasized that this film does unfold slowly following the visceral spectacle of the first act, giving rise to a funny, touching, and occasionally-shaky tale, with some sermonizing thrown in for good measure. However, as a whole, it makes for a recommendable time at the movies.

Here is the official trailer for Flight:


Flight is now playing in theaters around the U.S. It is Rated R for drug and alcohol abuse, language, sexuality/nudity and an intense action sequence.

Our Rating:

4 out of 5

TAGS: Flight
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  1. @Sandy Schaefer
    Great review :) imma be seeing this tonight.

  2. So glad this movie has been getting good reviews. Been excited to see zemeckis’s return to live action since it was announced.

  3. I’d love to see this it looks brilliant

  4. as soon as I saw the first trailer of this, I wanted to see it. You can’t go wrong with Denzel Washington or Zemeckis! Reading this review only confirms my initial thoughts.

    I guess I’ll be waiting until things have gone back to normal here in CT, the theatre was packed tonight and I’m not up to fighting a crowd after being with no power for 5 days and counting…

  5. Hit it on the nose with the review!

  6. This is an awesome movie. Can’t wait to see it again. Washington and Goodman are brilliant.

  7. Flight is technically a good movie, but boring after the plane crash. It’s really alive about addiction, so you have to be in the frame of mind to deal with an addict’s mindset. I would recommend you wait till its on cable or Netflix.

    • Totally agree, went to this last night, wish I would’ve paid a buck at redbox. This movie is boring!

      • yeah just seen it and its preety boring… kind of dissapointed…

  8. Thanks for the review. One of the few movies that I want to see that does not have a car chase, fight scenes, dragons, machine guns, etc….

    I will be seeing this.

  9. The wife and I watched this last night instead of staying home to watch “The Living Dead.”

    I have to say it was worth it. Yes it was. Brilliant flick with a great cast. Denzel and John Goodman have great rapport. It was also good seeing Denzel and Don together again. If you haven’t seen it yet, stop waiting.

  10. After the crash this movie is a thumbs down!! Long and drawn out movie about alcoholism. Dissapointing to say the least.

    • Denzel was brilliant! It’s all about character developement. Sounds like your an action movie goer. So I could see how you checked out. Sit back once in awhile and enjoy the fumes of the coffee.

      • Yeah i have to agree, Denzel as always was brilliant, my only real complaints about the movie, because i read this review before seeing it last night, so i expected a second act that was slower paced. I felt like they could of used John Goodman more, i feel like he was barely in the movie, and absolutely hysterical every second he was on screen.

        Also i felt like during the first act, when they were trying to introduce the Nicole character simultaneously as the airplane scene was ramping up, it felt distracting, and out of place, i understood eventually it would tie into Denzel’s character, but it wasn’t interesting at all.

        While i enjoyed the film overall, i found the 1st and 3rd acts to be amazing, and the second act a bit lackluster, and not even so much from the slow pace, b/c i enjoyed just watching Denzel steal every scene, but i felt idk if it was Nicole as a character, or the actress that played her, that Denzel’s scenes with her were dull and they had 0 chemistry, maybe they needed to make a more compelling character? Though honestly i didn’t think the actress was very good so maybe it all boiled down to a better actress would of made it more compelling.

        Either way, overall great movie.

    • I would tend to agree with you. The crash sequence was incredible. I’d watch that a million times over the remainder of the movie, with the exception of the final hearing scene. In between, it’s just a slow movie about alcoholism and pushing people away…etc. I don’t like how it advertised itself, versus what we got inside. Nonetheless, it was a good movie, but I’d give it 3.5/5.

  11. Good Movie. I usually find going to the movies a waste of time, but this was good. It dealt with a serious topic while giving entertainment. Time well spent.

  12. no disrespect..on a scale of 1 to 10 Flight is a three… good points..naked people…one of the best simulated air crashes…use of drugs and alcohol..and the cancer patient in the stairwell…question.. when did three lines and less than a gram of coke cost 500 american dollars? Bad points… john goodman… old school zemickas..and the sense really great actors i adore walked through their roles… academy award goes to the plane…

  13. strong movie..loved goodman..its like a spin of his Lebowski role

  14. This movie is God awful.
    Shallow in its attempt to express any sort of ideas on death, mortality, addiction, etc.
    The movie had an interesting base, but goes no where. The heroin addict love interest of Washington is two dimensional and in no way likable… the movie takes no time to develop a relationship between them, the only thing they have in common is their addiction which the movie fails to depict them sharing with one another on that level. She’s gross. Honestly if the movie wanted to be a man spiraling out of control it could have done so (and terrible music choice…. symphony with the devil by the stones is like a buzz song…). The whole movie was scenes mashed together… leaving the viewer with no direction… basically what the hell were they trying to do… its a shame such a large amount of money goes into making such garbage.

  15. Good movie but the opening scene was offensive/degrading to female viewers since exposing a nude women in the script had nothing to do with the story line.
    When will women be able to watch a movie without any jerk-off material?

    • I have to agree-i will not see this movie for the simple fact of the nude opening scene. When is Hollywood going to get that not just men see movies?

      • Seriously, I am soooo tired of everything being from a man’s perspective (female nudity). Obviously most men don’t find it offensive/degrading, which is actually pretty sad. Leave the degrading/unnecessary nudity to porn, please. I’m not even a prude, I just believe in respect and equality. I will try to avoid watching this movie.

  16. The coward 1st officer a white guy, is a horror of falsehood in real life no coward would be sitting in the right seat – that’s my huge complaint! Secretly reverse racism of retarded white guy instead of brave fellow helper of the PIC (Pilot in Command). Should have used Crowe for the 1st officer – didn’t have to write in a coward, retarded white guy for the part. Am I the only one who didn’t see that? Otherwise great movie.

  17. I took my 13 year old son to this movie since he is an aspiring pilot, and this movie was quite disturbing. It gives a bad image to pilots,
    portraying them as drunk drug addicts who have sex with anyone who has two legs.