At the heart of Robert Zemeckis' return to live-action filmmaking after a disappointing interlude devoted to motion-capture technology is a provocative moral quandary: what if your addiction can explain your greatest feat? Airline pilot Whip Whittaker (Denzel Washington) manages to land a malfunctioning airliner safely if spectacularly, but he did so after an all-night bender of sex, booze and drugs and a liquid breakfast of orange juice and vodka.

     Alas, that provocative moral quandary is pretty much left undeveloped by Mr. Zemeckis' rather generic drama of an alcoholic struggling with his demons as his comeuppance looms on the horizon. Flight pretty much follows the standard Hollywood boiler-plate for addiction dramas, almost like Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's description of five stages of grief, applied to a lead character who is also a hero. What is so disappointing about Flight is that both John Gatins' by-the-book script and the resulting film tantalizingly dangle the suggestion that this utterly unrepentant, totally unlikeable hero struggling with his conscience retains his ability to be fully functional in his appointed line of work, but never really follow up on it. Instead, Mr. Zemeckis and Mr. Gatins take a step back into a more comfortingly conventional, reassuring position of moral rectitude, never truly accepting the moral and human complexities of the situation, erring on the side of caution, decorum and Hollywood playbooks.

     This is all the more disappointing because Mr. Washington, often an electric, convincing performer, seems to be strictly on auto-pilot here; take one look at his Oscar-winning performance in Training Day, in an equally morally shifty role, to see what seems to be missing here. And virtually nobody else on the solid cast - not even Don Cheadle or Melissa Leo find ways to soar with their seriously underwritten roles: for a glimpse of what could have been, look no further than John Goodman's winning hurricane of walk-in as the pilot's drug dealer, and James Badge Dale's scene-stealing turn as a dying cancer patient to feel exactly what this sprawling, dullishly generic lacks: a sense of inner life.

Cast: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood, Brian Geraghty, Tamara Tunie, Melissa Leo

Director: Robert Zemeckis 
Screenplay: John Gatins
Cinematography: Don Burgess (colour, widescreen)
Music: Alan Silvestri
Designer: Nelson Coates
Costumes: Louise Frogley
Editor: Jeremiah O'Driscoll
Visual effects: Kevin Baillie
Producers: Walter F. Parkes, Laurie Macdonald, Steve Starkey, Mr. Zemeckis, Jack Rapke (Paramount Pictures, Imagemovers, P+M Imagenation)
USA/United Arab Emirates, 2012, 138 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Alvaláxia 1 (Lisbon), December 27th 2012


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