While Flight bears all the hallmarks of a compelling story about an alcoholic coming to terms with his problems, the Denzel Washington flick is not a typical tale of addiction. With the boozed-up protagonist as heroic as he is deceitful, the story is not a moral diatribe but a nuanced reflection on the pros and cons of honesty.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis (Forest Gump), Flight stars Washington as airline pilot Whip Whitaker. A decorated ex-Navy aviator, Whip’s life changes when his plane takes a sudden nose dive over the outskirts of Atlanta. As the panicked co-pilot freezes, Whip miraculously gets the plane level (albeit upside down) and manages to crash land in an empty field with all but six lives spared. The world lauds Whip as a hero, especially when no other pilot is able to replicate his heroic deed in a flight simulator.
The catch, however, is that Whip was sky high on cocaine and booze during the incident. Terrified at the prospect of being sent to prison, Whip and his allies move to cover up the truth.
At the crux of the movie is the apparent fact that the crash was a mechanical failure. Since Whip’s intoxication neither caused the crash or impaired his heroic deed, is it necessary to hold him accountable?
The film inclines the viewer to support Whip’s deceit until the end, when the brutal weight of the lies on Whip’s shoulders is made obvious.
Washington convincingly switches between being a likeable sober person and an obnoxious drunk, and his emotional climax at the movie’s end is particularly memorable. Although unlikely to beat Daniel Day Lewis for his role in Lincoln, Washington fully deserves his Academy Award nomination for best actor.
Flanking Washington’s performance are Bruce Greenwood (Thirteen Days), who plays Whip’s old friend and pilot union representative, and Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda), a criminal negligence lawyer representing Whip.
Cheadle’s performance is particularly impressive, as he goes from playing the role of reluctant defence lawyer to impassioned advocate.
Less impressive is the character of Nicole, who fails to leave a lasting impression despite a fine performance from Kelly Reilly (Sherlock Holmes).
The life of this young heroin addict is portrayed in tandem with the main plot until she meets Whip at a hospital and the two begin a romance.
Promisingly set up in the film’s first half, as the female lead her character becomes an unremarkable foil to Whip until she disappears from the plot entirely.
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