Review: Flight (2012)

What happens if a pilot, high on alcohol and cocaine, saves his plane and almost all the souls on board after the plane is crippled by a catastrophic equipment failure, one that would have lead to an unsurvivable crash in any other pilot’s hands? This is the question explored in the film Flight directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Denzel Washington as the pilot in question.

Let’s be clear about this, as the movie has been (in my opinion) badly misrepresented in advertising. It’s not a disaster movie, depicting in lovely detail every scare the crew and passangers go through – the flight and the crash are a short sequence in the early part of the film, and are hardly ever returned to. It’s not a detective story, following the NTSB around as they solve the puzzle. What it is, instead, is the story of the pilot, dealing with the aftermath. It is a morality tale, to be sure, and one that doesn’t paint with subtle strokes.

The mismatch between advertising and movie is nicely underscored by the contrast between advertisements on the screen and the composition of the audience in the screening I attended today, at Finnkino’s Fantasia theatre here in Jyväskylä. There were about twenty people in attendance. All the women present were there with a man; there were some unaccompanied men like myself. The advertisements seemed to be targeted on a woman-rich environment, however.

The movie might pass the Bechdel test, if one is feeling generous. This test requires that a movie should have at least two named female characters that have a conversation about something other than a man. During the flight emergency sequence, the flight attendants do discuss the situation, very briefly, and I think every one of them is named. I don’t think that’s what the test has in mind, though. Other than that, I believe all interactions women have in the film are with one man or another.

The shock of wrong expectations aside, there were some things I really liked about the movie. Nicole (Kelly Reilly), a drug-addict woman looking to get clean who moves in with our alcohol-addict pilot for a while, had some really good sense and did the right thing when it mattered. The story was given a satisfactory ending, something I really doubted could be done as the movie unfolded.

I also like the moral conflict inherent in the setup. The history of aviation has seen many incidents where a pilot heroically saved his plane from a near-crash that he ultimately caused himself. In this movie, there was no such ambiguity as the crash would have happened whoever had piloted the plane; the only question was how bad it would be, and our hero the drug addict dealt with it exceptionally well. The ambiguity is different: the pilot should have been kicked off the controls years before, yet he was the only good choice for this flight, in retrospect.

I don’t regret seeing the film, but I hesitate to recommend it. I’ll call it a draw: 5/10.

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