- Movie Rating -

Flight (2012)

| November 5, 2012 | 0 Comments

Flight is a movie that opens with a powerful scene aboard a doomed airliner and then calms down into a thoughtful and quietly moving drama about a man coming to grips with addiction and personal responsibility.  That may make the film sound boring and preachy, but it is certainly not.  Seen through a challenging performance by Denzel Washington – his best in years – this is moving and very spiritual film about a damaged man who works through the fog of his own ego until he comes to see the light.

It also has some questions about the people that we choose to call heroes.  We would like our heroes to be saintly, good-hearted and exude quiet cool.  Our hero in Flight is William ‘Whip’ Whitaker, a seasoned airline pilot who is no angel, in fact he really shouldn’t be flying at all.  As the movie opens, we see that he has spent several days drinking right up to the morning before he is suppose to pilot a flight to Florida.  He drinks heavily and then uses cocaine to get himself out of a hangover.

As Whip boards the plane, the flight crew can see that he isn’t fit to fly, but no one questions him.  That extends to his wet-behind-the-ears co-pilot (Brian Geraghty).  The plane takes off into a nasty storm.  Whip takes the plane out of the threatening weather and into the sun-drenched, cloudy patch above the storm.  Then something goes wrong and the plane goes into a nosedive.  Acting on instinct, Whip – who never loses his cool – inverts the craft in an effort to pull it out of the dive.  In contrast to Whip, the rest of the flight crew is panicky and serves to mirror our reactions to these horrific events.  Righting the plane, he lands in a small field next to a church.  Nearly everyone on board survives.

Whip is deemed a hero in the press.  He wakes up in the hospital with a concussion and some minor injuries.  He learns that there were a few casualties on the flight – including the flight attendant named Katrina (Nadine Velasquez from “My Name is Earl”) that he spent the weekend drinking with.  Also, there is going to be a full-fledged investigation by the NSTB.  This is a problem, especially when a lawyer named Hugh (Don Cheadle) informs him that a toxicology report confirms that he had alcohol and cocaine in his bloodstream.  This could send Whip to prison for the rest of his life.

Out of the hospital, Whip goes to his late grandfather’s farm to escape the press. There he pours all of his alcohol down the drain.  Seeing how many bottles he had lying around, we are stunned to discover the level of his drinking.  He is not a casual drinker, but a full-blooded alcoholic.  Whip is a man who has cleared out the better, and more secure, parts of his life to make room for his habit.  That includes an ex-wife, and a 15 year-old son that he hardly knows.  If there are nine levels of personal Hell, then Whip has arrived at about Level 4.  He knows that he drinks, and he does so because he likes it.  The movie never makes the mistake of making excuses for him.  Pouring out the booze was only a temporary fix, he returns to his drinking at the next sunrise.

The drama of Flight comes from the fact that Whip needs to be clean and sober in order to testify in a federal hearing.  That’s a problem for his buddy Charlie (Bruce Greenwood) and the lawyer who is trying to help him.  There is a very easy way out of this, there was mechanical flaw in the plane, plus Whip’s toxicology tests were administered with faulty hospital equipment.  But Whip is his own worst enemy.  He continues to drink and continues to put himself in a compromising position that could land him in jail.  One of the best scenes in the film takes place the night before the hearing as Whip is locked in his hotel room and tries to busy himself. Then temptation offers him a means of escape.

Those descriptions may make Flight sound like a preachy TV movie, but this screenplay is so much more observant than that.  Denzel Washington is a wonderful actor whose best quality is that he isn’t afraid to look like a jerk.  We like Whip and we want him to straighten his life out, and Washington’s performance challenges us to care about a man who doesn’t care about himself.  All around Whip are people who love him and circumstances that should light his path.  The movie is very spiritual in nature.  There is a lot of talk about God and his role in our lives, but that knowledge only comes to Whip late in the story at a moment of crises.

Also around Whip are people who want to help.  Most especially is a young woman named Nicole (Kelly Reilly), a former drug addict who cleans up and becomes sort of a guardian angel.  Her story is introduced in a very clever way – we meet her in a parallel story that takes place during the plane crash but we aren’t immediately sure how the two stories connect.  Reilly is a new actress who has worked mostly on the sidelines of mainstream films like Sherlock Holmes and Pride & Prejudice, but is only getting her first big break here.  She has sad eyes and a quiet tender screen presence that stays with you.

If there is a weakness in the film it comes in the way the story resolves itself.  It is difficult to describe without giving anything away, but suffice to say that Whip is so self-destructive that it is kind of shocking that the story would allow him such a turnaround.  We’ve seen this man destroying himself so it is hard to believe that he would have such a revelation so quick.  Still this is a powerful performance and a powerful story.  This is a movie that is about more than a plane crash, about more than an alcoholic.  It is one of those films that is about so many things that they only really come to focus when you think back on them.


About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2012) View IMDB Filed in: Drama