Tuesday, 30 July 2013

“Flight” and the Hollywood message: vodka bad, cocaine cool


Last night, we watched the 2012 Denzel Washington film, Flight,  about an airline pilot who saves a malfunctioning plane flying between Orlando and Atlanta by executing a series of counter-intuitively brilliant moves, thus saving all but five of the people on board – all of whom would have died had it not been for his skill and daring. The eight minutes leading up to the crash-landing are exhilarating and terrifying (see above), and I have a horrible feeling they’ll haunt me the next time I fly. But while the plane might have been saved, the movie itself then promptly goes into a tail-spin, and director Robert Zemeckis proves less skilfull than his fictional pilot, Whip Whitaker (no, that really is the name they’ve given him), because the film smashes right into the ground, killing everyone involved.

The main reason for this unfortunate turn of events is that Flight turns into a dreary “issue” picture. Yes, Whitaker may be a brilliant pilot, but he’s a major-league alcoholic and substance-abuser. In fact, when he crash-lands the plane he’s loaded on cocaine and vodka. Sadly, the bulk of the movie centres on his self-destructive bingeing as his union tries to cover up the fact that he was kite-high when he saved the passengers aboard Southjet Flight 227.

*SPOILER ALERT* Near the end of the film, at a federal hearing into the causes of the accident (during which he is, inevitably, drunk as a skunk), Whitaker is presented with an opportunity to escape with his reputation as a hero intact. All he has to do is besmirch the reputation of the dead female flight attendant with whom he spent the night prior to the flight, and who, it transpires, has twice been treated for alcoholism. Despite the fact that there had been no cabin service during the flight due to initial turbulence, two empty vodka miniatures have been found aboard. These were dunk by Whitaker himself, but all he has to do is concur that the flight attendant probably drank them. Instead, he confesses his guilt, and gets sent to prison, where he gets sober (which, obviously, wouldn’t happen in a British prison, where heavy drinking seems to be compulsory) and (hulk! choke! sob!) he becomes reconciled with his formerly estranged son.

Okay, fine. It’s all been done before, and a lot better (there has never been a better film about an alcoholic kicking his habit than Billy Wilder’s wonderful 1947 film, The Lost Weekend). And, as the American Airline Pilots Association has pointed out, the idea that a seriously alcoholic senior pilot could function for years without being detected by his company is plain ridiculous.

But Denzel Washington gives a decent performance (as always), and the script isn’t bad. What really annoyed me about the film, though, was one of those strange attitudinal anomalies which suggest Hollywood liberals inhabit a parallel moral universe to the rest of us. John Goodman appears in the film as Whip Whitaker’s go-to drug dealer, Harling Mays. No sooner has Washington woken up in hospital that Goodman is there with a supply of dope and bottles of hooch. When Whitaker gets wrecked the night before the crucial federal hearing, his minders are forced to call Goodman so he can straighten his client out in time for his appearance.

The problem is that the Goodman character is the best thing in the film – as you can tell from the above clip, he’s a big fat ball of dynamic, wisecracking, competent energy: the film picks up every time he appears. Given the way the part is played and written, it’s very hard not to warm to Harling Mays, and no attempt is made to portray him as the evil, disgusting, parasitic pig he would undoubtedly be in real life. And throughout the film, Whitaker’s cocaine dependence is downplayed. A female heroin addict  let’s us know that heroin is beyond the pale – but the film gives the impression that cocaine is, y’know, no biggie.

I presume these are these attitudes are common in liberal Hollywood circles, but I object to the attempt to export them to the civilised world.

By the way, Whitaker's co-pilot and his wife turn out to be committed Christians. Naturally, they're barking mad and deeply creepy. Do Hollywood directors and script-writers get issued with a Book of Rules which states that Christians must always be portrayed as weird fanatics?

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