If any movie deserves the Wonder Woman laser gaze, it’s Flight.
I did not like this film. If I’d had rotten vegetables in hand I would have thrown them at my flat screen. However, I have no illusions that I represent a majority opinion on this. Some (crazy) people liked this thing. Why?
We’ll see how the Enneagram stacks up, although I expect to find holes. The main character has a flat arc, even with Denzel Washington lending his chops; the portrayal of Christianity is very ignorant; and the conflict is as stale as dirt. This movie has one pull, and it’s a doozy. Pilot Denzel saves nearly 100 people from dying in a plane crash by inverting the jet and making a miraculous landing. The CGI is good, the tension is dramatic and, astonishingly, the event is implausible but not impossible. I will guess that this sequence is responsible for any good marks this film receives. If you watch the first half hour and shut it off, you will really like Flight.
I had been warned about the R-level content at the beginning, but I found the film less shocking than I had been led to believe. We have female full-frontal nudity, but she’s just walking around getting dressed. Denzel takes a hit of cocaine that gets a rock ‘n’ roll editing treatment. With that, he’s ready to head to the airport and fly the plane!
And then we’re redirected (jarringly) to introduce another character, Nicole, who begs drugs at a porn shoot. The language is rough, but we see nothing too racy besides bare buttocks. After this she injects the heroin and passes out, again with the juicy editing. Remember the sequence in Forrest Gump when Jenny takes the drugs and climbs on the balcony ledge while “Freebird” blasts? Yeah, this is Robert Zemeckis again at the helm and he totally steals from the tone of his earlier work.
Is all this drug use the 2? It’s certainly causes a lot of trouble. These characters, though, make clear that this is their daily existence. I think we’re still in establishing territory here.
A storm during takeoff causes a lot of turbulence. Denzel basically guns it, lying to the tower about his altitude, while his co-pilot gives him worried looks. After leveling off Denzel addresses the passengers from the cockpit door, which turns out to be an excuse for him to help himself to the vodka. He returns to the cockpit and conks out.
This may, in fact, be the 2.
I am guessing the numbers as I review the movie. At the time of watching I had no idea that this might be the 2. Only in hindsight does it suggest itself. You see, when Denzel grabs the little vodka bottles and adds them to his juice jug he throws the empties in the trash. However, he’s already declared that the flight attendants will not offer drink service because of the severe turbulence. When the NTSB, post-crash, examines the evidence, these bottles in the trash raise a red flag for them. Denzel will eventually have to account for the empties, which can only have been consumed by someone in the flight crew. This event will indeed line up with the 8.
If the above is the 2, then the next event is the 3.
All hell breaks loose. We learn later that a mechanical failure in the tail freezes the plane into a nosedive. Denzel’s amazing rescue happens here and it is spectacular. The rescue, though, would be 4 stuff. The elevator break in the tail is the actual 3.
Very weird 4. We have the crash; we have the hospital afterwards. We have the first indication that someone on this film wanted to poke at Christianity and/or believers because the wing takes out a church steeple as the plane crashes. Later we will see the congregants praying at the crash site, weeks later, as if it’s a miraculous location.
Early in Denzel’s recuperation in the hospital (he is only lightly injured) his drug pimp, John Goodman, shows up. I don’t know what the hip name for this man is. He manages Denzel’s high, offering alcohol or coke as needed to maintain the proper buzz. He’s a dealer and an emotional enabler. Pure poison, in other words. At this point Denzel refuses “medication” and just asks Goodman to get a change of clothes for him. We are led to believe that Denzel is off the substances, and indeed we see him dumping bottles (and bottles and bottles) of alcohol down the drain when he goes home.
One last bit in the hospital, though, has Denzel in the stairwell sneaking a smoke. He meets Nicole there. (Ah! So that’s how she fits into this thing.) Also, a terminal cancer patient joins them for a cig. His sole purpose in the scene appears to be someone who spouts nonsense about God. The movie gives him all the authority of A Man Facing Death Who Knows Things. I can’t even repeat the silliness he says. Anyone with a knowledge of theology would cringe at the juvenile idiocy coming from this Font of Wisdom.
But, hey! We’re in the 4 and everyone’s just searching for the answers, right?
Moving along . . .
Don Cheadle shows up as the lawyer. Now we have an indication that the drunken pilot may be criminally responsible for the six deaths aboard the flight. Mechanical failure will not get him off the hook because the pilot is required to be sober. When the NTSB drew his blood at the hospital post-crash he was waaaay over any legal limit. I still sympathize with Denzel, though, because he did make that miraculous save.
But then he starts drinking again and my sympathy evaporates. This is clearly going to be a movie about an alcoholic who needs help. Kinda last century as stories go, but I’m still hanging in there. He ends up at Nicole’s apartment in time to rescue her from an evil landlord, and with that she’s moving in with Denzel.
We’re close to halfway through the movie and I am looking for a Switch at this point. Is it the fact that he returns to drinking? Is it the beginning of a relationship with Nicole? Is it the threat of jail time for his drunken piloting? As you can see, the movie at this point leaves me ready to draw a slip out of the hat as an answer.
Sex with Nicole, all very PG. A meeting with the airline CEO, who would prefer to not be held responsible for the crash. Denzel blacking out from alcohol usage. Yawn, snore. Strangely, though, I recognize a bit of 5 stuff in all this. A loose script can become very dull at the 5. I’m going to call this gobbledygook as I see it.
SWITCH and 5
Look, what does all this naming and numbering matter? Enjoy the movie (if you like watching the Life of an Alcoholic) and shaddup. What matters is that the viewer needs a little structure on which to hang his hat. These little road signs, even if we would never reference the Enneagram, make us comfortable. Entertainment or art, fun or philosophy, we want these markers in order to appreciate what we’re watching. I am floating in a sea of Stoli at this point in the movie. I want to understand Zemeckis’ intention. I honor him as an artist and as a human being when I do that. Honor me back, dude, by constructing something worthwhile.
Tender moment with Nicole. Harassing a flight attendant at a funeral in order to wring the proper testimony out of her. (Wow, is he a likable guy.) Following Nicole into an AA meeting but leaving early. (Seriously? The Lost Weekend was 1945. That’s when the closet-alcoholic conflict was fresh. Didn’t we move past this topic about two decades ago?)
We now reach the point where the movie just plain insulted me. Denzel visits the co-pilot in the hospital to try to get a feel for his testimony. The guys legs are crushed, so the Denzel drop-in is more than tacky. The guy and his wife, it turns out, are some kind of born-again Christians. Only they behave the way a non-believer thinks someone would behave: Instead of rational thought they cry out, “Praise Jesus!” The theology is again ignorant. A crucifix is on the wall over the man’s bed for no logical reason. They ain’t Catholic and neither is the hospital. The non-believer loves to throw in a crucifix or a rosary as shorthand for a general Christian motif. I’m done feeling insulted by this and now I’m embarrassed for Zemeckis. A major filmmaker should have more education, or at least know that he should keep his craft focused on his areas of expertise.
What was the point of this scene again? Sorry.
Oh, yes. Arm-twisting his colleagues to get them to lie about his level of intoxication during the flight.
And Nicole, in a wise move of self-preservation, leaves him.
Drunk. Preparing to testify without being drunk. Getting drunk the night before his testimony. Being rescued by people who should know better.
Calling in Goodman the drug pimp to balance Denzel’s alcohol with cocaine so that he can testify before the NTSB. Honestly, this was even more egregious. The two men trying to help him end up in an illegal dope buy just so that they can put Denzel upright. I found it so implausible I was astonished. And Cheadle, as a black man I can only assume, seems to know how to make a “coco puff” (a cocaine-laced cigarette) for no reason that fits his character. Talk about insulting.
I have just realized, ladies and gentlemen, that we have our 6.
Goodman is our mirror. Take away the 3 I gave you earlier. A mechanical failure, an event happening from outside of the world that changes the trajectory of the story, is much too logical for this movie. The drug pimp is the 3. Only instead of a movie leading a man to sobriety, the point of this movie is to lead Denzel into depravity. He goes into his NTSB hearing flying higher than he did on the plane, and he’s about to pull the whole thing off, too.
What a despicable plot, if you could call it that.
I will guess that the decision moment is when Denzel can no longer lie to the NTSB. The naked girl from the 1, a flight attendant, dies in the crash. At the hearing Denzel has the chance to blame the mysterious empty vodka bottles in the trash on her. She certainly can’t defend herself! For some reason he grows a conscious. Really, I have no idea why. Later he says it was because he could literally lie no more. Certainly the girl was filmed as if she was a very casual relationship for Denzel. Yet, she is the breaking point for him.
Pfft. You spend the entire film wondering what his bottom will be, the thing that turns him around from alcoholism. At a certain point you wonder if he will ever actually hit bottom. What will be the moment that such a hardened alcoholic will need in order to admit his addiction? Pfft, again. It’s not his ex-wife or son, it’s not his job or his co-workers, it’s not a new relationship with a gentle woman. No, it’s the naked gal who got five minutes of screen time two hours ago.
His actual admission that he was the one who drank the vodka is our 8. He confesses everything about his drunkenness at this point. Heck, I’d spent so long waiting for this moment I’d almost wanted him to succeed as a drunk.
Finally he’s in AA, telling his story to his fellow inmates. He’s very grateful.
Ack. Can I be done with this review yet?
Look, this movie could have had a rock-solid Enneagram and I still would have hated it because I don’t want to watch such a mushy moral mess. But this movie had problems. The Switch was a vague guessing game. That would have been the point in any other movie where the character hit bottom, admitted his alcoholism, and moved on to a more consequential conflict. This movie went round and round in the same rut.
Also, by making the drug pimp the 3/6 Zemeckis has given his story a weak backbone. That means that the entire crash, the most worthwhile moments in the movie, happen in the 2. Boy, that’s a lot of film to run on secondary material. You want to make this movie better? Tell the whole story in reverse. Put a man in recovery at the beginning and let him figure out if he can fly without the booze in his system. This is a man who operates better drunk. A very weird subset of humans actually behave this way. Tell me a story of a man who experiences that crash in an 8 moment, high, and survives. How do you get a character to that point and what kind of a man is he afterwards?
Now, that’s interesting.
But it’s a lot harder.
Please click through for my written fan edit of this movie.