SIDEWALKS’ Jeanne Powell reviews “Flight” starring Denzel Washington and directed by Robert Zemeckis. Does she like it?
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Denzel Washington, Melissa Leo, John Goodman. Don Cheadle
Release date: Friday, November 2 (wide)
Rating: Rated R for Drug and Alcohol Abuse, Language, Sexuality/Nudity and an Intense Action Sequence.
In this action-packed mystery thriller, Academy Award winner, Denzel Washington stars as Whip Whitaker, a seasoned airline pilot, who miraculously crash lands his plane after a mid-air catastrophe, saving nearly every soul on board. After the crash, Whip is hailed as a hero, but as more is learned, more questions than answers arise as to who or what was really at fault and what really happened on that plane?
Denzel Washington delivers a fascinating performance as a troubled airline pilot in “Flight.” This film, directed by Robert Zemeckis, has Oscar™ nomination written all over it.
Washington initially trained for the stage with the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. His transition to television (“St. Elsewhere” series) preceded an impressive career in films. Washington as hero always comes to mind because of his performances in films such as “Cry Freedom” in 1987, “Glory” in 1989, “Malcolm X” in 1992, “The Siege” in 1998, “The Hurricane” in 1999 and “Great Debaters” in 2007.
He has given us flawed characters before – the renegade cop in “Training Day,” the brilliant and calculating hoodlum in “American Gangster ,” and the combat officer suffering battle fatigue in “Courage Under Fire.” Nothing prepares us for pilot Whip Whittaker in “Flight.” This collaboration between director Zemeckis, actor Washington and screenwriter John Gatins brings us a gifted pilot with a larger-than-life capacity for lying to others and deluding himself. How far will he go? How much collateral damage does he leave?
With female full frontal nudity in the opening scene, outrageous humor and more cocaine snorting than you ever wanted to see, along with frequent use of the “F” word, the film deserves its “R” rating and does get your attention. This is how Captain Whitaker lives. And his career seems none the worse for it. There are people everyday who balance an impressive public image with shocking private lives, until they can’t do it anymore.
Will Whip be undone by the plane crash? After all, it wasn’t his fault. Equipment malfunction is what he claims and the NTSB investigation confirms Whip’s diagnosis. However, the plane did crash, and six people died. The attorney (subtle performance by Don Cheadle) coolly reminds the airline CEO that only four deaths have to be accounted for; the other two deaths were those of airline employees who “assumed the risk.”
If excessive alcohol consumption and using illicit drugs are a mystery to you, then this film will be an education. Where do secret consumers hide their drugs and booze? E-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e. Cleverly scripted to show rather than tell, the film and Washington’s performance allow us to experience the toxic spiral of a capable man who leaves debris everywhere – a failed marriage, an angry son of that marriage, and the distinguished heritage of his father, who flew a P-51 as a member of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen.
John Goodman is obscenely hilarious as Harly Mays, the candyman, the dealer on speed-dial, as Whip’s very own “Dr. Feelgood.” When he flies into the expensive hotel room where Whip is waiting with his clueless union rep and his unsuspecting attorney, the viewer is entertained, educated and shocked all at once. These moments coupled with electrifying classic rock music approximate the condition of being high, the sense of extraordinary well-being, the exhilaration and invincibility. How high will Whip fly with those cool aviator sunglasses shielding his secret? How far will he fall?
In a Denzel Washington film, there is more than mere entertainment. Without preaching, the film brings up the possibility that we are an addictive society, with millions of middle Americans hooked on prescription medication, illicit drugs and alcohol – the biggest drug of all. There are legal consequences today, due to the magic of science, and so Captain Whitaker’s balancing act gets a little trickier when his blood alcohol level is tested after the airliner crash, while he still is unconscious. So we watch, mesmerized by a gifted man dancing on a high-rise ledge, wondering how long he can keep it going.
Several minutes before the passenger liner crashes, Captain Whitaker engages in extreme maneuvers when he realizes the equipment is malfunctioning, and the special effects for these scenes are impressive. If you have a queasy stomach or were in a plane accident recently, these scenes may be difficult to watch.
A well-paced thriller and an excellent character study, “Flight” is sure to generate all kinds of discussion and all kinds of Oscar™ buzz. Three boxes of popcorn.