Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Starring Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, Nadine Velazquz, John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood, Garcelle Beauvais and Justin Martin
Release Date: November 2, 2012
A mystical and unflagging perseverance allows airline pilot Captain Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) to crash-land a malfunctioning airline jet in an open field. It is evidenced that he is talented as a pilot. It is his calmness, though, that is most glaring and jarring. Remaining unshaken by the catastrophe he finds himself in, Whitaker is not self-deluding when he projects a demeanor that is reminiscent of a great Greek God. He constantly signals out demands that he needs from his crew, all of whom respond but with immense dread. But he remains calm, almost as if he knows he is not going to die. Each of the 102 people onboard his plane are all thrown into an uncontrolled panic as well. All of them are expecting death and six of them eventually will die. As the plane continues its descent, Whitaker becomes more resilient, more inspired and cockier, almost as if he is scoffing at imminent death.
Maybe it is because the plane’s descent isn’t as imposing as Whitaker’s personal descent that he has been enduring for untold years. The night before Whitaker is slated to fly the airline jet from Orlando to Atlanta is probably akin to every other night he’s experienced before sitting in the cockpit. His hotel room quickly resembles an addict’s chamber that is replete with booze, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and needles. We see him, along with an airline crew member (Nadine Velazquez), hung over on the morning of the flight, quickly squashing that feeling by snorting two rails of cocaine. Surviving this self-inflicted torture has probably made Whitaker numb, not only to drugs but also to life, to emotions and even to death. No longer is Whitaker seen as a Herculean figure. His demeanor has been significantly reduced to that of a vulnerable and sad human-being unable to admit that he is addicted to alcohol and drugs, two poisons that provoked his ex-wife (Garcelle Beauvais) and son (Justin Martin) to bail on him.
Surely there have been countless Denzel Washington films that have portrayed him as the hero who perpetually saves the day. What makes Flight any better? It is interesting to compare Flight with, say, Déjà vu, Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, or Unstoppable. What is blatant is that Mr. Washington doesn’t portray in those aforementioned films the depraved and decrepit individual. America likes to see Mr. Washington display his courageous smile and flaunt his pristine character. In Flight, as in Training Day (for which he won an Oscar), the film is mostly concerned with morality and the film somewhat dissects Mr. Washington’s character. No one in cinema today can outwardly project charisma and inwardly project frailty like Mr. Washington can. In Flight, he is at the height of his abilities.
Whitaker, after crash-landing the plane, finds himself to be an American hero, thanks to the adulations from his friend and drug dealer (John Goodman). Whitaker is hospitalized due to being severely injured in the crash. When he gets briefed by his lawyer (Don Cheadle) and his union representative (Bruce Greenwood) about what will ensue (legal cases), he finds out that his blood has been taken for a toxicology report. Results indicate that he had alcohol and cocaine in his system while piloting the plane. Saving the lives of 96 people is no longer relevant. The six who died in the crash can result in Whitaker receiving time, if not life, in prison. This news floors him. Soon he withdraws to his grandfather’s isolated farm where he grew up, fluctuates between sobriety and drunkenness, engages in a relationship with a recovering heroine addict (Kelly Reilly), and attempts to reunite with his ex-wife and son.
Moral ambiguity envelops Flight. This is more than welcomed because for the last decade Zemeckis has been busy pursuing perfection by directing fluff such as the animated Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol, films, truth be told, that truly didn’t possess any originality nor any topics that provoked audiences to sink their teeth into and dissect. With Flight, he gives us a film similar to Castaway (his last non-animated feature): Flight has a main character, metaphorically speaking, isolated on an island that is all his own, left there only to fend off his personal demons and sudden urges to succumb to alcohol and cocaine. The film’s central character is extremely flawed. We simultaneously cheer for Whitaker to be lauded and imprisoned.
In Flight, with a script by John Gatins that seems to be continuously searching for different narrative paths to go down, we receive our thrills but then are bombarded with the usual suspects: romance, melodrama, courtroom procedural, and even some preachy sentimentality. The film could do without these narrative shifts because they have a character in Whitaker who seems to be limitless in his potential to be existentially explored.
Rating: 4 of 5