Rated – R
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Denzel Washington, Nadine Velazquez, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, Bruce Greenwood
Robert Zemeckis directs his first live-action film in 12 years. He’s given us some highly entertaining films before (Back to the Future) and one of the best dramas in the ’90s (Forrest Gump). Flight ranks among his best dramas and I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I’m glad Zemeckis is back from his motion-capture animation movies (Beowulf, A Christmas Carol).
Starring Denzel Washington as Whip Whitaker, a veteran pilot and one who has developed a heavy drinking problem, this is truly one of the best performances of the year. After a night of partying with fellow flight attendant Katerina (Nadina Velazquez), he snorts two lines of cocaine and prepares himself for a flight from Orlando to Atlanta. This trip should take less than an hour, but it results in one hell of an opening sequence.
After flying through a heavy storm, the plane drops into a complete nosedive and the chances for survival are slim-to-none. But Whip with nerves of steel turns the plane over on its back, which halts it descent and puts the plane into a glide until it crash-lands into an open field near a small church. Out of 102 people on-board, only 6 die. It’s considered a miracle and Whip is a hero.
That sort of event is enough to turn anyone’s life around, and Whip swears off drinking for the time being. To avoid the media he stays at his old farmhouse where he grew up and remains dedicated to his sober ways by pouring out all the alcohol inside the house. That is until the toxicology report comes back and it’s shown that Whip had a 0.24 blood alcohol level with signs of cocaine in his body. Even though he saved many souls on the plane that day, he’s still responsible for six deaths and with the alcohol and cocaine in his system, he faces a life-time in prison.
The plane crash in the opening is the only action that the film has, as it resorts to an emotional drama with layers to keep the characters and plot moving along. Whip meets a drug addict, Nicole, in the hospital and befriends her while allowing her to stay in his farmhouse. The two share a small relationship that, I’m happy to say, doesn’t take over the film like other dramas do.
The film is really about Whip’s alcoholism and the events that leads up to when he can finally admit that he has a drinking problem. It’s clear to everyone around him, including his airline staff to his ex-wife and son, that he has a problem, but he’s too stubborn and too proud to allow it to sink in. “I choose to drink!” is what he yells after he fails to stay at an AA meeting with Nicole. But even though there are moments when Whip can be seen as a monster through his drunken moments, he never loses your sympathy and that’s important for Flight. You realize that his actions are being driven by his problem and even though they don’t excuse him, they certainly allow room for patience and understanding.
The supporting cast is strong with Don Cheadle as the no-BS lawyer, Bruce Greenwood as his long-time friend and John Goodman as his drug supplier and also the majority of comic relief. But this is truly Denzel Washington’s movie and definitely one of his best performances in a very good career. He never over-acts his moments and instead contains his emotions inside. We watch and we can feel the pressure beating in his heart and the pain building in his face. He displays great control in his acting, especially in a crucial scene at a hotel room the night before his questioning.
Flight is a film that isn’t very entertaining, nor would I choose to watch it again in the near future, but it’s without a doubt a strong, character-based film. While there are some cliches that weigh down a few moments, there is a lot to swallow in this gritty tale of overcoming alcoholism. But no matter how difficult the ride was, the end is fulfilling and makes you happy you took the trip.