Review: In “Flight” Denzel shines as very flawed hero

November 2nd, 2012 at 12:00 am by under Entertainment

“AA” is something you would associate with an airline movie, probably American Airlines – but in “Flight”, the “AA” is for Alcoholics Anonymous … and that’s an important detail you need to know going into this movie.

This is not a thriller about a pilot who tries to save people from a plane crash… that is just the beginning, this is a drama about the pilot who tried to save people from a plane crash… and all of his problems… and the problems of the people he associates with.

Warning to parents/everyone: This movie deals with some heavy topics of addiction and death, its also rated R for drug and alcohol abuse, language, sexuality/nudity and an intense action sequence.

“Flight” poster courtesy Paramount Pictures

(My spoiler-free review)

Denzel Washington plays Captain Whip Whitaker, an airline pilot dealing with addiction and a troubled flight from Florida to Georgia.  He commands the screen in a role we aren’t used to seeing him in – a guy who is very hard to root for.  It was no doubt challenging for him, but a challenge for the audience to deal with a main character, the “hero”, who is so very flawed.  The character is jarring and the subject matter (drugs, alcohol, sex, death, court) is also potentially troubling for the audience…. this is a weighty drama… not a thriller.

Capt. Whitaker is used to covering up his addiciton – we get glimpses of this early using breathspray and being sneaky… but the lies and deception start to get bigger as the movie progresses.  As the coverup gets bigger, the calm veteran pilot we see in control in the cockpit begins to lose control outside of it… as his career is in danger of spiraling out of control much like the plane he struggled to get control of in the first scenes of the movie.

He’s cavalier and very loose before the flight begins while others are all business and/or anxious for takeoff… he’s the same way after the flight… he thinks he’s in charge and has everything figured out and can fix everything whenever he wants to fix it.  Washington is great as this gibbering, stumbling drunk who keeps trying to cover up his lies.  He becomes arrogant and belligerant, a loose cannon – spiraling out of control like the plane he’s trying to keep from crash landing.  At one point he even says “don’t tell me how to lie about my drinking”.  Like most addicts, he believes can stop at any time and he doesn’t think its a problem or that he’s putting his life and everyone else at risk with his decisions.  He is a mess – making one bad decision after another.  We also get someone who becomes very defensive when some try to help and a very clear portrait of someone who struggles to stop… but is constantly tempted by his addiciton to continue.  Whip is a man we don’t want to root for but we want to see him get himself right.

John Goodman is great comedic relief to the tension as Harling Mays – a crazy son-of-a-gun and one of Whip’s few friends, but as we learn, its about the company he keeps because of his addiction.  Kelly Reilly is fascinating as Nicole,  another troubled soul he gravitates towards because of similar problems.

Capt. Whitaker’s crew is lead by co-pilot Ken Evans, a younger by-the-book pilot played by Brian Geraghty… he’s a spiritual man with strong convictions about life and procedures in the cockpit.  Leading the flight attendants is Tamara Tunie as Margaret… a loyal and strong member of the team that is asked to do more than usual on this flight.  Nadine Velazquez is Katerina – another flight attendant who has a much better  relationship with the Captain but is less experienced with dealing with heavy turbulence… in life and in the air.

This cast is bolstered by a solid performance from Bruce Greenwood as pilots union representative Charlie Anderson, the pivotal role of lawyer Hugh Lang, played expertly (as usual) by Don Cheadle.  Washington and Cheadle has a razor sharp rapport with each other – both men trying to maintain control of their conversations and their respective screentime.  Melissa Leo is solid in a small but impactful role as NTSB investigator Ellen Block.

The airline emergency we see in the early scenes of the movie are intense and well executed, director Robert Zemeckis puts us in familiar setting of an airplane and slowly amps up the intensity, feeling apathy for the passengers and the stress of the crew.   In “Flight”, we get to see the behind the scenes of what allegedly happens after an airline emergency – with NTSB investigation, the company’s concerns about bad press and financial losses, the doctors, the pilots union, the lawyers, funerals, plus the scrutiny and pressures from media.

But “Flight” is a drama, its more than just investigating what happened to the airplane and how the pilots responded to it, this is a character study of a man as flawed as the jet he flew.  We get themes of addiction, family, church, coverup, lies, choices, consequences, selfishness, anger – all things that Capt. Whitaker must deal with to keep his career and his life out of a collision course with rock bottom.


“Flight” is a heavy movie about more than just an airline emergency, Denzel and solid cast shine… I give it 8.5 out of 10 … Zemeckis teeters on the edge of offensive, but gives us an engaging story with interesting characters, it will surely get some Oscar consideration.

Video from my review of “Flight” on EightWest:

MORE INFO (possible spoilers):

Bruce Greenwood, Don Cheadle, and Denzel Washington in “Flight” photo courtesy Paramount Pictures


(2012) (rated: R for drug and alcohol abuse, language, sexuality/nudity and an intense action sequence)
(2 hr, 18 min)

Starring: Denzel Washington, Brian Geraghty, Kelly Reilly, Bruce Greenwood, Don Cheadle, Nadine Velazquez, Tamara Tunie, John Goodman, Melissa Leo

Director: Robert Zemeckis [Back to the Future (1985), Forrest Gump (1994), Cast Away (2000), Romancing the Stone (1984), The Polar Express (2004), A Christmas Carol (2009)]

Genre: Drama

The Plot: An airline pilot saves a flight from crashing, but an investigation into the malfunctions reveals something troubling.

So what did you think?  Please post a comment!

“Flight” poster and photo courtesy Paramount Pictures

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