Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Flight - ***1/2

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis

Starring: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Don Cheadle, John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood

Review: The airline industry has always been a subject of fascination for me.  It’s such a necessity for the American way of life but is possibly one of the worst run and most horribly inefficient industries in the country.  It’s one of the safest forms of travel on the planet, yet when even the slightest thing goes wrong its national news.  Flying as a form of travel is in the unique position to affect so many people in any given mishap that it we have no choice but to pay attention.  So many lives on any given flight and it all rests in the hands of men and women who are flawed but stitched together with good intentions just like the rest of us.

Whip Whitaker is one of those people.  He is good at what he does, enjoys what he does, but his life and abilities as tools for his own self-destruction.  He lives his life on the quintessential razor’s edge.  On one side is full on belligerent junkie, the other upstanding citizen and excellent pilot.  Depending on the day and the hour he might be teetering towards one or the other.Whip is a man who gives the impression of choosing his own fate.  Addiction and problems aren’t things that he is fighting so much as they are enabling him to live the life he wants to live.

After Whip, we are introduced to Nicole.  She seems to live her life on that very same razor’s edge.  For her though, this isn’t a choice but a prison.  Nicole doesn’t want to be where and who she is but finds the harder she tries to dig herself out the further down she goes.  Nicole is in a desperate attempt to get out of the rut her life is in.

Just as you would expect from two completely unrelated storylines being told, the paths of these two cross shortly thereafter the early movie climax.  A climax of which is probably one of the most well shot and intense scenes you will see on film this year.  Crashes, whether they be land, sea, or air, are always intimidating to put on celluloid.  Zemeckis does it here and its masterful.  It keeps you on the edge of your seat through the whole scene.

After the crash is where the majority of the movie takes place.  This film isn’t concerned with the event itself so much as the aftermath.  What it does to the people that lived, to the people that died, and more importantly to Whip himself.

In the scenes leading up to the crash we see Whip wake up, drink a beer, smoke a joint, do a line of cocaine, and then drink a bottle of orange juice with three single serving vodka bottles dumped into it while flying the plane.  According to Whip he was just “getting himself right” but to the rest of the world he wasn’t anywhere close to be flying that plane and putting all those lives in his hands.

The conundrum here is that no matter Whip’s condition he did something that maybe nobody else on the planet could do.  When the plane encountered its issues he was able to make the correct maneuvers and land the plane causing a minimal loss of life.  Through simulations with other pilots not a single one was able to do what he did, let alone do it under the influence.

He should be revered as a hero, but he should also be held responsible for taking the lives of strangers into his hands while under the influence of multiple substances that could impair his judgment.  

At first, his status is kept under wraps.  The press looks to him as a hero, but begins to wonder about him when the heroic stories dry up.  Whip takes refuge at his father’s farm and brings his new friend Nicole out there with him.  Together they try to make themselves better.  She succeeds, Whip does not.  The downward spiral of his life only picks up speed as the pressure from the outside increases.

The major irony here is that Whip had the ability to pilot an aircraft with incredibly expertise through such a horrific moment but doesn’t have the capacity to make the same maneuvers to save his own life.  

As Whip, Denzel Washington gives one of the finest performances of his multiple Academy Award Winning career.  He is the same flashy and showy Denzel we know, but also many moments where he reins it in that only go to make the performance all the more powerful and haunting.

I have no inside knowledge of the airline industry or pilot field so as to what this movie could be saying about these subjects I can’t speak to.  As a character study, the film delves deep into addiction and depression and shows some of the true horrors that can come from such things.  Lies on top of lies, disgracing people who are dead and not there to prove you wrong, pandering to other people’s beliefs to keep your secrets hidden, and worse.  All things that Whip goes through to keep his addiction alive.  The sad reality that he one day has to realize is that the more alive his addiction is, the less alive he is.

‘Flight’ has gotten somewhat of a bad rap for being a “glorified public service announcement.”  I could see that to an extent but don’t agree with it.  It’s a great bit of acting with a solid bit of filmmaking which equals a solid movie-going experience.

This movie is definitely worth your time.

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