When I walked into the movie Flight (2012) I thought, "hey, this will be another Denzel Washington (American Gangster) flick with him being the hero we all know and love, right?" Wrong. I've never been so pleasantly surprised at a film I thought I knew everything about. This film didn't have a spectacular opening weekend (pulling in about $25 million), but it's definitely a hidden gem.
The film centers on pilot Whip Whitaker (Academy Award winner Washington), an alcoholic divorcee with an affinity to snorting cocaine. When he boards a plane after a night of partying, his ability to successfully fly the aircraft remains in question. It's storming, the crew is expecting a high level of turbulence, and Whip decides to down a screwdriver with the ingredients inversed. After a rough takeoff, the plane is placed on autopilot and all seems well. Unfortunately, before the trip is over, something happens during the flight, causing the plane to descend at a rapid pace. However, due to heroic efforts by Whip (including turning the plane upside-down), he is able to crash land in a field. Four passengers and two crewmembers were killed and Whip was thrown into unconsciousness. When he comes to, he's being hailed a hero. Apparently, any other pilot would have killed every single person aboard the plane but, somehow, Whip did not. He moves out to his father's country home, decides to quit drinking and starts his recovery.
It sounds like I just told you the entire movie, doesn't it? Well, this was only the first twenty minutes. Eventually, Whip is called into a meeting with the head of the pilot's union (Bruce Greenwood of Star Trek) and an extremely intelligent lawyer (Academy Award nominee Don Cheadle of Hotel Rwanda). Since there were deaths on the plane, the airline would probably try to place the blame on the plane's manufacturer and the manufacturer would probably try to place the blame on negligence of the pilot. As a toxicology report was submitted, Whip's Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) level was well above the limit...and included hints of cocaine. As a formal investigation ensues, Whip begins a downward spiral into an alcoholic abyss that threatens to rip his world apart.
It goes without saying that Denzel did a superb job in this film. We've seen almost everything he touches turn into gold. But rarely does his pour his heart into a character that we want to physically injure for 90 percent of the film. Whip is so adamant in his denial of being an alcoholic that he constantly hurts those close to him. He continues to drink even though it could mean losing his wings and facing criminal charges. He urges surviving crewmembers to lie for him and say that he was normal and fit to fly. He even manipulates others in order for them to play on his side. Even with his sadistic role in Training Day (2001), there wasn't a time where I wanted to actually throw something at him as I did during Flight.
The time it takes for any sort of formal investigation to complete can be extremely dull and boring. With the superb screenplay from John Gatins (Reel Steel) and excellent direction of Academy Award winner Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump), this was the fastest 2 hours and 18 minutes of my life. Every second had you sucked in; every moment had you wondering what Whip would do to screw his life up even more. The characters were extremely likeable, whether they were on screen for half the movie (such as Kelly Reilly of Sherlock Holmes), or for a couple of scenes (such as Golden Globe winner John Goodman of Roseanne). There were some points I even wished the film was longer so I wouldn't have to say goodbye to these characters.
Is this film an Oscar contender? I certainly believe Washington, Zemeckis, and Gatins will receive nods for their contributions to this stellar film. It's definitely worth your time and money to experience the stellar drama that is Flight. Show times can be found here.
Little Rock Movie Examiner rating: 5.0 out of 5 stars
MPAA rating: R
Minimum Age Group: 17+
Sexuality: There is nudity in the opening scene of the film. It is implied that a major character is a prostitute. Two implied sex scenes
Language: Explicit language (about 30 'f-words') throughout
Drugs/Alcohol: Main character is an alcoholic. There is use of cocaine and heroin in the film as well. Cigarette smoking
Violence: The plane crash scene is the most intense scene in the film. Can be extremely disturbing and frightening to viewers. There are also a couple of minor scuffles
Themes/Issues: Commercial drug use, prostitution, alcoholism, religion