Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Produced by Laurie MacDonald, Walter F. Parks, Jack Rapke, Steve Starkey
Written by John Gatins
Cinematography by Don Burgess
Edited by Jeremiah O’Driscoll
Music by Alan Silvestri
Denzel Washington is such a magnificent actor that’s easy to forget just how good he is because he does it on such a consistent basis. He’s one of the few actors that you actually have to rack your brain to come up with a movie where he turns in a bad performance. And just for the record, my choice for that would be 1990’s “Heart Condition” a truly wretched comedy he did with Bob Hoskins. And he excels at playing just about every kind of character you can think of but it’s really something to see him play William “Whip” Whitaker, an airplane pilot who consumes alcohol and cocaine in such quantities that’s it a wonder he can find the bathroom, much less fly a plane.
But in FLIGHT it’s exactly his drug and alcohol addiction that is at the core of the movie. Of course, Whip had no business getting on the plane while high. But would a sober pilot have taken the chance of flying a commercial airplane with 102 people on board upside down to bring it out of a dive? A dive that certainly would have killed everyone on board. Whip crash-lands the plane in a field. Six people are killed but still it is nothing less than a miracle that anybody at all was able to walk away from the plane. The movie raises the definitely controversial suggestion that it actually was Whip’s breakfast of vodka and cocaine pumping in his system that enabled him to pull off the unconventional maneuver.
Whip is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, who performed a toxicology screen on him while he was unconscious in the hospital after the crash. Whip’s slick union lawyer Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle) is positive he can get the toxicology report buried. If he can’t then Whip will find himself up on manslaughter charges. But there is an excellence chance that the cause of the crash was a malfunction in the plane’s structure itself. Of course it would help if Whip can stay sober until after his hearing so as not to give the press even the slightest suspicion that there’s anything wrong with him.
Good luck with that. Whip’s alcoholism actually gets worse even though his heroin addicted girlfriend Nicole (Kelly Reilly) is getting help recovering from her problem and she soon realizes that staying with Whip isn’t exactly good for her sobriety. Whip’s old friend Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood) finally has to admit that Whip’s illness is far worse than he knew and absolutely beyond his control to deal with.
Not that there isn’t a lot of blame to go around with the crash of SouthJet Flight 227. The night before Whip and one of his flight attendants (Nadine Velazquez) partied it up with plenty of booze, coke and sex. The senior flight attendant Margaret (Tamara Tunie) knew that the both of them were high when they stepped on the plane and later on, Whip’s co-pilot Ken (Peter Gerety) admits to Whip that he called his wife to tell her that he was worried as he could smell the alcohol on Whip. But neither he nor Margaret said anything which makes them just as responsible if the NTSB finds that Whip was responsible for the plane’s crashing.
Whip Whitaker is the sort of role that an actor takes when they want to show that they can ACT and while Denzel Washington long ago proved that, I do see why he wanted this role. It’s wildly against the type of role we like to see Denzel in and after seeing this movie I understand why so many black women disliked the movie. They didn’t want to see an alcoholic, drug addicted Denzel Washington messin’ around with a heroin addicted white woman. They got enough on their hands dealing with brothers out here already doing that. In addition, Denzel isn’t his usual suave, handsome self. He plays an alcoholic mess and he truly does look the part. Although I wonder if a guy who gets as high as Whip does on a regular basis could hold down his job as long as he did without his problem being detected or affecting his job.
The supporting performances don’t really stand out as this is Denzel’s show all the way but I liked them all. John Goodman breezes in and out as Whip’s drug dealer, bringing dependable comic relief with him. Kelly Reilly is an actress I’m unfamiliar with but she does a capable job. Don Cheadle is a guy who is usually all high energy but not here. He’s calm and relaxed, even when he’s faced with such a train wreck of a client. The always wonderful-to-watch Melissa Leo shows up in a small but pivotal part at the end of the movie. And Bruce Greenwood is always a pleasure to watch.
So should you see FLIGHT? If you’re a Denzel Washington fan you probably already have. It’s a movie I definitely wouldn’t have expected from director Robert Zemeckis as it’s a fearsomely dark movie which is most certainly not light entertainment. It’s an exploration of addiction at its most harrowing and out of control. It’s not a fun movie but it is an exceptionally well-made one and if you have a strong stomach, I recommend it highly.