Flight tells a tale of turbulence both in the sky and in the souls of its characters. This well-executed film hits hard with issues of addiction and a jet passenger’s worst fears, but clings to brief moments of levity and hope to protect the audience from complete depression.
Denzel Washington follows up his action-packed role in Safe House (2012) with a different turn as a character that is both complex and exposed from Flight‘s start to finish. He expertly shows off his acting chops by portraying a character the audience roots for, but disappoints every time hope reaches its highest level.Washington plays Whip Whitaker (how can he not be destined for greatness with a name like that?), the talented yet cocky airline pilot who must land a jet that is suffering from some sort of mechanical failure while plummeting in a nosedive toward the ground. While he safely maneuvers the plane into a successful landing (only losing six out of the 102 “souls on board”), the truth does not take long to come out when his lawyer discovers he was flying the plane with alcohol and cocaine in his system, which could be enough to sentence Whip to life in prison. The hero of the story is also being considered a criminal guilty of endangering peoples’ lives.
The actual flight sequence is jarring, not advisable for viewing before stepping onto any planes in the near future, especially when it is shown that the pilot is flying with alcohol in his system (apparently “FUI” can be a thing). The action is thrilling and immersive, taking the audience back and forth from the tragedy of being a passenger on the plane to the snap decision-making going on in the cockpit. However, the airplane is simply the catalyst for a much bigger issue at hand: Whip Whitaker’s ongoing battle with alcohol.The story delves deep into character, maybe going even a bit too deep into Whip’s love interest and recovering heroin addict Nicole’s (Kelly Reilly) backstory. The two are brought together in a hospital following each of their “crashes” in one of the most poignant scenes of the film. However, as her character seemingly recovers quickly, Whip falls behind, as his alcohol addiction grows to even be too much for the woman who was not long ago shooting up drugs, so she is forced to leave him for the time being.
Plot is meaningful in the film, as it’s an interesting concept to see how people are portrayed in the media as one thing and can be struggling with something completely different behind the scenes; yet this movie works best with its characters, with Whip truly being the driving force that moves the sluggish plot along. Great supporting characters played by John Goodman, Tamara Tunie, Don Cheadle, and Bruce Greenwood receive some short scenes here and there that pepper the film with extra drama and levity, but the meat of the story is in Washington’s Capt. Whip Whitaker.
Washington is arguably at his peak in Flight, becoming the likable hero we all want to love, while letting us down scene after scene by succumbing to his addiction. It’s heartbreaking to see such a troubled soul go through such a struggle. His denial is completely believable, and the audience gets suckered into Whip’s lies every time. For some, this may be an issue with the character’s likability, but the ending certainly helps to rectify that faith in his character.
Flight unflinchingly delves into uncomfortable subjects such as airplane crashes and addiction and transforms them into a film that is both intimate and thrilling all at once. It is not a film one will want to re-watch over and over again, but that is only because of the unsettling pit in your stomach throughout the entire movie, not poor quality filmmaking. Some of the supporting characters are over-the-top and stereotypical at times; nevertheless, the story is about Whip’s journey towards his own personal freedom. The audience longs for this freedom just as much as Whip does by journey’s end, and thankfully we are treated with a gratifying conclusion.