CONTAINS SPOILERS, CRUISING AT AN ALTITUDE OF TWENTY EIGHT THOUSAND FEET KERCHUNG AAAARGH WE'RE GOING TO DIE *HIC*
You can tell it's awards season because cinemas are suddenly full of the "good" movies: the ones the studios like to think represent the movie industry at its best. Lincoln, Les Miserables, Django Unchained (the wildcard entry), Zero Dark Thirty: the quality films that tackle a serious subject or a classic text, and do so with maturity and respect and responsibility (and length) but with no laughs. The bum and poo jokes, sci-fi blockbusters, and stupid CGI explodogasms can wait till the summer: these are the movies For Your Consideration.
Flight's serious subject is alcoholism: Denzel Washington is Whitaker, an airline pilot and established drunk who then snorts cocaine to sober himself up. But when his plane goes down due to what appears to be a combination of mechanical failure and very bad weather, does his vodka-fuelled state contribute to the disaster, or to the miraculous crash landing in which only six out of over a hundred are killed? And will he manage to stay off the booze for the enquiries and tribunals and legal hearings? Indeed, in the face of potential prison time for manslaughter, will he even accept and acknowledge that he has a serious addiction problem in the first place? The flight of the title doesn't refer to Flight 227, it's Whitaker's flight from reality: it's his refusal to face his alcoholism and drug addiction and the lies he'll tell to convince himself (if no-one else) that he's okay.
The early section featuring the disaster itself is absolutely gripping, the dramatic and character-based second half considerably less so. Chunks of running time are spent on Kelly Reilly's fellow addict trying desperately to get clean and rebuild her life, but hanging around with Whitaker clearly isn't helping as he doesn't want to change. In the end the film is certainly worthy, and it's very well done, but despite John Goodman's colourful appearances as Whitaker's drug supplier, it tends towards the preachy, and it doesn't have enough of the dramatic fireworks to sustain the second half of the action after the crash. Instead it turns into a string of scenes in which Whitaker either resists the temptation to get thoroughly unattractively sloshed, or he succumbs to that temptation.
It's nice to see Robert Zemeckis back doing proper live action movies rather than motion capture cartoons (Beowulf, A Christmas Carol), and he's in serious mode rather than high-concept popcorn entertainment mode. But it just becomes a little too glum. That's not necessarily a bad thing: coked-ups alcoholics in charge of jet aircraft isn't really something to be flippant about. (Not that it's any reflection on the film, but the cinema showed it through the 3D filter they hadn't removed from the previous day's screenings, which perhaps added to the darkness.) NB: you might want to look away when Piers Morgan turns up as himself on TV sets.