By Teresa Williams
When someone’s negative actions have no effect on a mostly positive outcome, do we still punish that person? That is the question posed by the latest Robert Zemeckis film, “Flight,” starring Denzel Washington and John Goodman.
Washington plays pilot Whip Whitaker, who is by day an experienced captain of a major airline. By night he is a drug addict and an alcoholic. After a coke, weed and sauce filled evening, Whitaker takes control of a commercial jet with 102 souls on board. In the moments before descending on Detroit’s airport, the plane suffers some serious equipment failure and plunges toward the earth. With a few strategical movements, Whitaker manages to barrel roll the plane to safety. 96 passengers survive and Whitaker is a national hero. The problem is, his blood/alcohol level is more than twice the legal limit. This gives the National Transportation Safety Board reason to investigate further as the pilot’s life unravels.
Zemeckis has always been a master of film. He helmed the “Back to the Future” trilogy and “Forrest Gump.” Over the past decade, he has led the way for motion capture animation with “The Polar Express,” “Beowulf” and “A Christmas Carol.”
In “Flight,” Zemeckis marks a return to form with live action story-telling, complicated characters and some moments of great dialogue. Goodman, who plays Whitaker’s coke dealer and friend, has two small scenes in the film and he walks the fine line between acting and scenery-chewing. He might as well have used a gun because he didn’t just steal the scenes; he completely burglarized them. The theater exploded with laughter and cheers with every line he uttered. My main problem with the film, as well as the representation of the drug culture, was the little inaccuracies and exaggerations. We have seen it romanticized a thousand times by a thousand directors, but as someone who has seen more than one person succumb to addiction, there were a few fallacies. For instance, someone the size and age of Goodman would have died long ago with daily cocaine usage- but I digress.
One thing that intrigued me through the film was the sympathy the director aims at Whitaker. It is hard to watch someone’s life unravel, even if they are not the most ethical person and Washington wears the pain of Whitaker’s decision in every facial expression and line of dialogue. This man is not a bad man; he is just broken and needs to be fixed.
For the entirety of the movie, I found myself thinking, “Why do we need to feel bad for this guy who acted irresponsibly with the lives of a hundred people?”
Zemeckis forces the audience to ask that question. I felt that Whitaker deserved whatever punishment he was dealt, but the intensity of each building scene had my traitorous mind feeling pity for him; hoping that Whitaker would have a chance to redeem himself and make things right. It was emotionally confusing, which is what it looks like Zemeckis intended. B