dir Robert Zemeckis
scr John Gatins
prd Laurie MacDonald, Walter F Parkes, Jack Rapke, Steve Starkey, Robert Zemeckis
with Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, Bruce Greenwood, John Goodman, Melissa Leo, Tamara Tunie, Brian Geraghty, Justin Martin, Garcelle Beauvais, Nadine Velazquez, James Badge Dale
release US 2.Nov.12, UK 1.Feb.13
12/US Paramount 2h18
Moral support: Washington and Reilly

cheadle greenwood goodman
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Flight With his first live-action film since Cast Away in 2000, Zemeckis has essentially made a companion piece about another man whose life is changed by a horrific plane crash. But this time he's isolated by substance abuse in a film full of contrived plotting and overstated themes.

Whip (Washington) is a commercial pilot whose life is a blur of women, alcohol and drugs, even on the days he's flying. On a routine flight from Orlando to Atlanta, his plane suffers a catastrophic malfunction, and he miraculously manages to crash land in a field, saving 96 of the 102 people on board. But the investigation reveals that he had both alcohol and cocaine in his blood. So his union rep (Greenwood) hires a high-powered lawyer (Cheadle) to represent him. Meanwhile, he befriends a young junkie (Reilly) trying to clean up her life.

The film is anchored by an energetic performance from Washington, focussing on Whip's complex state of denial as a high-functioning addict. The characters around him are fascinating but simpler, essentially consisting of one personality trait that provokes Whip in a specific way: Cheadle is efficiently square, Reilly is desperately hopeful, Greenwood is tenaciously loyal, Goodman (as Whip's dealer-pal) is riotously rude. None of these seem like real people: they're tools screenwriter Gatins uses to push Whip one way or another.

So the preachy script undermines what could be an intriguing exploration of flawed heroism. It's clear from the start which side we should be on and how we should react to everything that happens. There may be moments along the way that catch us off guard, but even these are manipulative. So it's difficult to believe the series of events that leads to the climactic moment at a hearing overseen by a ruthlessly efficient investigator (Leo).

That said, Zemeckis crafts the film with considerable skill, catching telling details with tricky camerawork and some jaw-dropping effects. The opening plane-crash sequence is seriously harrowing, probably even nightmare-inducing, while the film's quieter moments are equally powerful. So it's a shame that the story resolves itself into a somewhat standard cautionary tale about the dangers of alcohol and drugs. It's worth a look, but a more complex and challenging approach would have made it important as well.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, nudity, drugs 9.Nov.12

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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall