Sky Captain and the world of addiction…
Opening with its pivotal plane crash scene, you may be forgiven for thinking that Flight has shed its dramatic payload way too soon –not so.
It’s a disorientating set piece of high tension that heralds an emotional journey to come in a remarkable, Oscar-worthy turn by Denzel Washington and most encouragingly, an overdue return to form for Director Robert Zemeckis. He hasn’t made a movie this good for a long time.
Flight’s high altitude drama comes after the consequential events of Captain Whip Whitaker’s doomed departure. After landing the stricken plane with a minimal loss of life, Washington’s Cap’ is hailed a hero, but an opening pre-flight bender of booze and coke leads to the questioning of Whip’s culpability in fatal events, bringing about a federal investigation.
Talk of a broken plane and miracles leave little doubt that lives are saved, but a massive moral dilemma remains at the heart of John Gatins’ screenplay that keeps Flight on the right bearing.
Focussing on Washington’s soaring central performance and yet another big screen study of addiction, tautness is masterfully maintained throughout by critical episodes in Whip’s fluctuating moves away from drug and alcohol addiction and painful regression.
In possibly the performance of the year without the grandstanding of Training Day and the method of Daniel Day Lewis’ Lincoln, Washington’s addict is an everyman, periods of inebriation play as wrenching moments of weakness and hangovers bring pity; witnessing the recovery ward aftermath is upsetting, a bed bound close-up on a teary Washington is a benchmark in economical, but no less effective acting.
As distressing in sympathy, Whip’s later scheming is equally as awkward, not only continuing to lie to himself and others but having others do it for him, turning feelings of pity to revulsion; sentiment wains.
Kelly Reilly’s recovering addict Nicole offers a glimmer of redemption; ultimately a comparison to the conscious choice of Whip’s addiction, his addict isn’t self-pitying. He selfishly “chooses” to drink, in denial perhaps, a typical addicted trait.
And with the faith and loyalty of pilot union friend Charlie (Bruce Greenwood) and straight-talking lawyer Hugh (Don Cheadle) tested throughout, feelings of empathy diminish further. Supporting performances are top notch, Cheadle particularly so in an examining, but faithful defence of Whip.
John Goodman’s frustrating, seldom seen friend swaggers in with profanity early and latterly to ‘enable’ Whip; comical perhaps, but curious and out of touch with proceedings up to Flight’s courtroom climax.
Staying on the right trajectory throughout, Zemeckis’ sound direction and a steady script keeps flight’s morality story cruising along nicely, captained superbly by Washington’s evoking performance and ethical drama that matches a thrilling opening centre piece.