Written by: John Gatins
Starring: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood
Taking culpability for making mistakes stands as a vital indicator of maturity, which gets even more important when the possibility of skirting it becomes possible. There will be individuals who go their entire lives never reaching this stage of life and it becomes the moral tug-of-war occurring inside the mind of the protagonist in Flight. A snappy look at an alcoholic pilot involved in quite the predicament.
Following a night of heavy drinking and drug use, veteran pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) flies a plane while intoxicated with 102 passengers. Even with his intoxicated state, he miraculously lands the plane but faces an investigation as to what caused the emergency landing claiming the lives of 6 individuals, including two crew members.
Whip, as a person, may not have the best decision making on a personal level, but it’s undisputed that he can pilot a plane like no one else. Even when intoxicated he pulls out a maneuver that saves the lives of many even as his co-pilot loses his cool throughout the entire process. It takes a special kind of skill, which makes the upcoming hearings so difficult to sit through as Flight asks moral questions regarding conduct. Yes, Whip broke many laws and regulations when drinking while piloting a commercial airplane, but his exceptional skill worked in an instance where others would have definitely failed, which the film proves as well. Quite the dilemma and one this film handles fairly well.
This moral quandary goes through the gauntlet of the different individuals in Whip’s life enabling his behavior. On this journey is his attorney Hugh (Don Cheadle), head of the pilot’s union Charlie (Bruce Greenwood), and dealer Harling (John Goodman). Each of them has a vested interest in seeing him walk free from any wrongdoing. Hugh’s entire job hinges on proving his lack of wrongdoing, while Charlie represents him as part of the union and Hugh loves to sell the man all sorts of drugs. Tough love becomes necessary with an addict like Whip and it becomes evident by the people around him just how he went down this rabbit hole and can barely find his way out. Having these three men around him makes the presence of Nicole (Kelly Reilly) all the more vital to his development.
As an addict herself, she becomes the life raft to pull himself out of this personally precarious situation. The relationship they share becomes the ultimate arbiter of whether he’ll be able to get away without punishment along with recovering from his addiction. Nicole becomes the only one willing to challenge him with nothing but enablers as other options and the decisions Whip ultimately makes pulls the story in the directions it needs to go.
With much of the film being a personal journey with plenty of zip to it, the plane sequence where he does the miraculous landing becomes the most thrilling aspect of the narrative. Waking up to a potential disaster, the way Robert Zemeckis directed this sequence truly demonstrates the danger involved and how a regular pilot could easily freeze up under the circumstances. It’s one thing to make these landings during simulations, but when 102 other souls are riding in the back, the job gets a bit heavier and much more meaningful. Zemeckis captures this exact sentiment in this scene, which only further confirms what Whip can do when handling an aircraft. He brings a level of calmness certainly aided by the casting decision of having Denzel Washington in the lead role.
A vast career with a wide array of roles, seeing Denzel portray an unlikable person stands out as some of his most impressive feats because he’ll always find a way to make you care for them. It’s the power of his charisma and he does it again as Whip in this feature. As the audience, we know of his guilt in operating this machinery while under the influence but it just becomes difficult to hate Denzel even through the guise of the character of Whip. Whether it’s the infectious smile he has or the energy he brings to the role, he becomes the perfect person to portray this complicated character.
A long-running moral quandary dominates the headspace of each character in Flight, which makes for an entertaining feature. It allows the audience to go through this journey with Whip and even when knowing his guilt, there are times I found myself rooting for him to get away with it all. A testament to Denzel in the lead role but also the progression of the story and how it sets up this flawed man in this precarious scenario.