I’ve always been a Denzel fan. I’ve seen him as one of the few major movie stars who had his head on fairly straight. But I’ve got to say “Flight” was truly disappointing.
This could have been a fine movie. It’s a classic storyline: Top-flight pilot compromised by his addiction to alcohol and other drugs. His life is a shambles, and he is in deep denial about his addiction. His drunkenness on the job becomes an issue when his passenger jet crashes. His heroic efforts and flying skill save all but six lives on the plane. The stress of the investigation forces him to rock bottom, and when his moment of truth comes, <SPOILER ALERT> he tells the truth and accepts the consequences.
Redemption — or at least as close as a clueless world can get to it.
But, oh, the drawbacks: The first several minutes of the movie ruined with gratuitous frontal nudity — and not a quick little glimpse either. Enough cursing to make you think perhaps the movie is about a sailor, not a pilot. With one exception, the Christian characters are typecast as oddballs (members of the church where the plane crash lands) or wackos (the young co-pilot and his wife). The movie stares into the seamy underbelly of worldly pasttimes — recreational sex, substance abuse, sexual exploitation, the porn industry, etc. — and lingers so long on each one that it loses the “dose of reality” feeling and slides into pandering to the prurient interests of the audience. Mind you, there are heartwarming moments, but not enough to redeem the effort.
And returning to the theme of redemption: I’m always struck by how clueless Holly wood is when they try to tell redemption stories. The moral of this flick is the AA creed without the Higher Power. Admit your problem, take responsibility, get yourself sober, be restored to a relationship with your son, enjoy your stint in prison. God does make a cameo appearance — as the “act of God” the lawyer uses to help his client escape responsibility for the crash and as the Heavenly Benefactor the young co-pilot credits for the gift of his two crushed legs.
What distressed me most of all, however, was none of that. My deepest disappointment was with the audience reaction at one crucial moment in the plot. Denzel’s character has gotten sober for his testimony in a National Traffic Safety Board hearing. His hotel room is cleared of booze so he doesn’t fall off the wagon before he testifies. Alas, the door to the adjoining room isn’t latched and he wanders in there and finds a loaded mini-bar. You realize he’s facing an alcoholic’s moment of truth. He opens the door and sees the liquor … and many in our audience laughed. It’s a very suspenseful moment, the crux of the plot — and either these audience members are clueless about the drama or they’re uncomfortable about their own substance abuse issues. Don’t you hate it when people laugh at precisely the wrong moment?
I didn’t come away from the movie feeling entirely cheated. Apparently, I now look enough like a senior citizen that I get a discounted ticket, no questions asked. But I’m disappointed Denzel didn’t insist on making this a better movie. And I’m saddened by the reminder that our world entertains itself with stories of faux redemption, when the real deal is right under their noses.
Should you go see “Flight”? I’d say no.