Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by John Gatins
Starring Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Don Cheadle, John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood, Melissa Leo
Rated R | 139 Minutes
Release Date: November 2nd, 2012
Airline captain William “Whip” Whitaker (Denzel Washington) wakes up in a hotel room with flight attendant Katerina Marquez (Nadine Velazquez, FX’s The League).
Amidst a landfill of empty glass bottles and crushed aluminum cans, Whip smokes a joint and downs the half-empty bottle of beer on his nightstand.
Katerina navigates the wreckage, casually searching for her clothes. Her perfect nude form tip-toes around the room as Whip gets his bearings. Hungover from a sleepless night of sex, drugs, and reckless room service abuse, the still-drunk Whip opens his bloodshot eyes, rolls up a $100 bill, and snorts a couple lines of coke to shake the cobwebs.
Seconds later, Whitaker is a sharp-dressed man in his pilot uniform, strutting through the airport. Scheduled to commandeer a commercial aircraft from Orlando to Atlanta this morning, the captain takes his seat behind the controls with rookie copilot Ken Evans (Brian Geraghty). Whip chases black coffee and aspirin discreetly with vodka and orange juice and lets Evans fly the plane while he takes a nap.
Near Atlanta, the plane enters a steep dive, jolting Whip awake. After exhausting all other options, the liquored-up Whip rolls the plane into an inverted position (flying upside-down) to bring it out of the nosedive, then maneuvers the plane right-side up just before crash-landing in a field. The media hails Whitaker as a hero (reminiscent of Capt. Sully Sullenberger), but there’s the troubling matter of a toxicology report that, if made public, could ruin Whitaker’s heroic reputation.
Written by John Gatins (Real Steel) and directed by Robert Zemeckis (Cast Away), Flight leans almost entirely on Denzel Washington’s central performance, which is nothing short of brilliant. Zemeckis’ first live-action film in 12 years, Flight is less a drama about an airplane crash and more a character study of a man who can’t come clean about his addiction to anyone, including himself.
The film is filled with great performances by Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, Bruce Greenwood, and John Goodman, who stars as Whitaker’s best friend (and enabler) Harling Mays. When Mays shows up later in the film with copious amounts of cocaine to get Whip ‘back on his feet,’ you hate him for it – and yet you can’t help but love his entrance into the scene and his interaction with straight-laced lawyer Hugh Lang (Cheadle).
Flight is a fantastic film with award-worthy performances. This is Denzel’s best since Man on Fire and a triumphant return for Zemeckis, who has squandered years directing underwhelming motion-capture films like Beowulf and A Christmas Carol. With Flight, Zemeckis returns to the real world – creating a film about the human condition that harkens back to 2000’s Cast Away and 1994’s Forrest Gump.
While Joaquin Phoenix (The Master) and Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln) will be exalted for their transformative performances this year, it’s Denzel Washington who truly deserves recognition for creating a character that never feels like a caricature. Whip Whitaker isn’t the same brand of boozy lunatic that Phoenix portrays, nor is he a historical figure emancipating millions. He’s your father. He’s your uncle. He might be you. He’s a real person – a human being stuck in dire straits – someone addicted to lying about his addiction.
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