It seems most likely that the inspiration for Flight came from the successful crash landing into the Hudson River by Chelsey Sullenberger. Only to spice things up they have the pilot be not only a hero but a drug addict to boot (maybe writer John Gatins (Summer Catch, Coach Carter) also drew from Bad Lieutenant but we’ll get to that movie in a minute).
Smart idea, smart cast and smartly done overall. I had no interest in seeing this until recently when a friend told me was pumped to check it out. Oh, and I found out a little more about how much drugs Denzel takes (which is a lot). I liked it.
The trailer makes the film look a bunch lamer and tamer than it actually is. The impression I got was that this was going to be sort of a mystery if this pilot, Whip, drank before the plane crash and if his drinking was the reason why the plane went down. That’s not what’s going on here at all. You know from the start that Whip is a mess but you also know from the get go that his shredded state had nothing to do with the plane malfunctioning. There’s nothing to figure out, it’s an engrossing character study.
Denzel gives his best performance since Training Day, ironically where he played another wolf in sheep’s clothing. He’s tip top when he’s high, no one can touch him when it comes to flying. He’s so clear minded, collected, cool headed and totally fucked up. It’s not over the top at all or even on the brink of being over the top like in Training Day. Here Denzel plays just the right notes and knows when to turn on the devious behavior and the anger. I wish he would’ve won best actor at the Oscars. Oh well.
The only thing I didn’t care for that much was the very last scene. It gets too cheesy and heavy handed but certainly doesn’t discount the rest of the experience.
Could this be a new Bob Zemeckis? It looks like he gave up on that remake of Yellow Submarine which is a good move. This film definitely feels like when a teen pop or movie star tries to shed their goody two shoes image. They start to dress more scantily clad, sing about drinking, get tattoos, have sex with a lot of other celebrities, do a nude scene, etc. They essentially say “I’m not who you think I am, I have a wild side”. After Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol (by the way that motion capture shit creeps me out and I wish it would stop) Zemeckis wanted to say that. And just like those young celebs that tend to gravitate towards the extreme to prove their badassness Bob decided to shoot the edgiest script he could get his hands on. I mean the thing starts with a full frontal of some chick, Denzel taking a swig of beer, a hit of weed and snorting a line of coke. Zemeckis: “See, I’m all grown up now.”
But good for Bob for doing something that’s clearly outside of his comfort zone and also for navigating through that unexplored area so well. Hopefully this gave him a craving to do live action again and to also do non children’s movies. I haven’t seen his three I listed above but years ago Zemeckis was so great at crafting pretty wacky stories that catered to both kids and adults like the Back to the Futures, Forrest Gump and Death Becomes Her (which is a forgotten classic). I get that he’s a different person now but after seeing Flight it doesn’t look like he’s going down the same path Spielberg did. Spielberg will never make an edgy action adventure type picture again where our charismatic hero unconcernedly shoots motherfuckers in the head. Because he got older and has a family now he doesn’t want to portray violence with nearly as much glory as he did. Bob, on the other hand, wants to dig into heavy shit like drug addiction. Maybe he’ll tackle something really violent next.
So this was good, even great at times. We care about Whip because he’s charming, a goddamn amazing pilot and we can see the good underneath the alcohol, drugs and reckless conduct. It’s like if we just give him a little more time he’ll sort it out and become the great man we know he is. But at the same time we know the sonuvabitch will always give in and destroy himself. It’s tragic man.
Now this is not the same character as the Lieutenant from Bad Lieutenant (either of ‘em but I’ll be talking about the 1992 one). Flight kinda felt like Bad Lieutenant lite. There are more differences than similarities but I’d like to go through some of them because…well…it’s a chance to talk about Bad Lieutenant which I haven’t done yet.
Whip and Lieutenant are similar in that they both love to do drugs and do their jobs while high as a motherfucker. They’re addicts so they need this shit to function. They would probably do a worse job without the help of drugs. Each of their jobs involves positions of power and taking care of people. They both seem to like their jobs too.
I think that’s where the similarities end though. While Whip is a redeemable figure Lieutenant is absolutely not. The man has a very bad gambling problem (it’s kinda funny that he keeps betting against the Mets because that would normally be a good move, poor bastard), does way more drugs and a larger assortment than Whip, but most importantly he doesn’t help anybody. At least Whip successfully landed a broken plane and saved people’s lives. Lieutenant pulls two girls over and masturbates in front of them. He never does anything good, respectable or valiant. This guy is a despicable human being. Lieutenant doesn’t even attempt to get sober like Whip. Lieutenant stays in his crumpled state while things go from bad to worse.
It’s interesting that religion plays a role in both pictures. In Flight I’m not sure what Zemeckis was saying. I couldn’t figure out if it was an endorsement or a rejection. Maybe it’s both. More than anything it seemed like an acknowledgement. Like Zemeckis was giving a nod to religion but also saying that we control our own lives and actions. The whole thing is dealt with smoothly without much debate. In Bad Lieutenant there’s more of a struggle. One of the cases Lieutenant works on is the rape of a nun and it kind of haunts him throughout the movie. At the end it’s Lieutenant yelling at Jesus, calling him a “rat fuck”. Lieutenant believes in religion but is pissed that it doesn’t seem to be working for him. This also falls into the acknowledgment category. Writer/director Abel Ferrara is saying that he’s on board with religion but it’s frustrating to deal with and understand.
Where Flight ended on a relatively happy note Bad Lieutenant does not. It’s grim and terrible but also realistic and extremely fitting. I want to say that it couldn’t possibly end any other way but Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans proves otherwise. Who the fuck knew the exact opposite ending could work too? Pretty weird.
The original Bad Lieutenant is a masterpiece (Port of Call New Orleans is almost just as good). Harvey Keitel is phenomenal (he does a full frontal by the way), Ferrara does an incredible job (it’s probably his best film, or at least my favorite of his), it lives up to the title and the NC-17 rating and it’s just a fucking crazy movie. And Flight is cool because it shows that you can have the Bad Lieutenant spirit in a much more commercially viable film.
With the magic that Werner Herzog pulled on the Bad Lieutenant remake hopefully he’ll reboot Flight next.