Flight – Movie Review

 Huge spoiler alert first paragraph:

During a short flight between Orlando and Atlanta, a commercial jet experiences a catastrophic equipment failure forcing the brilliant, seasoned pilot, Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) to orchestrate a bold, maverick maneuver.  He literally inverts the plane to stop the altitude plunge then crash lands the plane in an open field behind a church.  This heroic decision saves lives; of 102 people aboard there are only six casualties. Whip is an immediate hero and the frenzied media descends, but he is a reluctant and reclusive hero.  Could it be because he was up all night partying the night before with sexy flight attendant Katerina (played by Nadine Velazquez) and flew the plane inebriated and high on cocaine?  After a preposterous premise such as this, Flight could go in any direction.

 Some people might not like the direction John Gatins’ script goes after this.  The viewer might be expecting a thriller, but they aren’t really getting this.  What the viewer is getting is part thriller, part character study, part drama, part social problem movie, all of them spearheaded by a smashing performance by Denzel Washington. Admittedly there are scenes of alcoholism and addiction that seem over the top or a bit “we’ve seen that already.”  But somehow they always feel real when played by Washington.  As stale or “large” as some of theses scenes seem, a true alcoholic’s private life, I suspect isn’t far from what you see here.

Despite some tonal and genre shifting, Flight is immensely watchable and you will be invested in Whip’s struggle, no matter how ambiguous, elusive and amoral his character appears to be.  Whip is an anti-hero and Washington is fantastic in the role. His magnificent movie star charisma is there but it never overwhelms his performance as he manages to stay down and dirty inside Whip’s troubled soul.  Washington’s alcoholic pilot is raw, damaged and naughty; he doesn’t look like a fit handsome action star in this film.  Addiction isn’t pretty.  Washington is so good, that most of the other actors in the film look like amateurs. I once recall the same feeling while watching Jodie Foster in a movie.  I kept thinking why is she the only one working?

Two performers that can hold a scene with Washington are Kelly Reilly who plays the drug addicted Nicole and the incredibly entertaining John Goodman as Harling Mays.  Reilly, an actress I haven’t seen before gives an understated, almost poetic performance as a beautiful young woman down on her luck. Goodman is brash, energetic, and hugely entertaining as Whip’s sometime drug dealer and sometime friend.

How much you like Flight may depend on your aversion to the subject matter of alcoholism.  However, Flight is so much more than that.  Yes, the climax and resolution may seem a bit pat in the interest of redemption and hope, but when you have gone as low as Whip has gone, there is only one way to go—up. Besides there are so many surprising things along the way, even if you see the ending coming (which I didn’t by the way) the journey is well worth the ticket. It is good to see an adult movie made in Hollywood that has a story that deals with so many gray areas, as in real life, nothing is black and white.

Flight is directed by Robert Zemeckis and playing at the Salmon Run Regal Stadium Theater, Watertown, NY.