My handy American Heritage Dictionary defines flight as the act of flying, but it also says it is the act of running away. In the film, you’ll find both definition as Denzel Washington plays a pilot drowning his demons in booze and drugs but an act of heroism finds him in the spotlight.
William “Whip” Whitaker (Denzel Washington) awakens from a drunken stupor after a night of sex, drugs, and probably rock-n-roll with Katerina (Nadine Velazquez). They both have to get to their jobs so Whip snorts a line of cocaine to get back on track. The problem is that Whip is a commercial airline pilot and Katerina one of his stewardesses.
Whip manages to get the plane through some turbulence before turning the flight over to his co-pilot Ken (Brian Geraghty), sneaking some vodka into his orange juice, and dozing off. Whip is awakened by a catastrophic jolt that finds the plane in a catastrophic dive.
His piloting skill turns a death descent into a crash where only 6 out of 102 people die. He awakens in the hospital to find Union rep Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood) and an interview with NTSB officials. All Whip has on his mind is calling his friend Harling (John Goodman) and getting the hell out of the spotlight.
The wounded Whip sneaks into the stairwell for a quick smoke and meets Nicole (Kelly Reilly), was has brought into the hospital for a drug overdose about the time Whip was crash-landing the plane. The two make fast friends but Whip retreats to his isolated family farm to outrun reporters. A meeting with Charlie and attorney Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle) means that Whip may be in more trouble thanks to a toxicology report.
Whip had dumped out all the booze in the farm, but these revelations make his sojourn on the wagon rather short and the greatest enemy to Whip may not be the NTSB investigator (Melissa Leo) but himself.
Flight may have a showy and thrilling plane crash that gets your attention, but it’s Denzel Washington that carries the show. However, the film is really about addiction and at its heart a flawed hero. Consider Whip the anti-“Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who had to land his plane in the Hudson River, although the event is based on an airline crash that didn’t end so well. Whip is a pilot who is drowning his woes in the bottle with a coke chaser.
He does rise to the occasion, maybe even because he is so drunk that he doesn’t think to panic, and saves his plane and the majority of the souls aboard, but Whip has lost his own. Washington gives a masterful performance. At times Whip seems the reluctant hero and others being the abusive, manipulative drunk.
No wonder the Academy has nominated both Washington and screenwriter John Gatins. The inspiration came to Gatins when he was on a plane next to a pilot who wouldn’t stop talking to him (too many adult beverages?) and he realized he would rather not know that the men in charge of flight may have feet of clay. The film also marks Robert Zemeckis’ return to a film that isn’t made with stop motion capture (the last live action film he made was in 2000).
It may not encourage you to get on a plane, but Flight is a masterfully acted film that lets Washington portray a flawed character.
Flight is presented in a 1080p transfer (2.40:1). Special features include the 10 minute “Origins of Flight” about how the project came to be, the 11 minute “Making of Flight,” the 7 minute “Anatomy of a Plane Crash” about the thrilling set piece, and the 14 minute “Q&A Highlights” where a reporter questions the cast and crew. You also get a DVD and digital copy.
Flight is an excellent film with the craft of acting taking center stage. You may remember the chilling plane crash but you’ll also remember the performances on display.
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