Denzel Washington will probably be nominated for his performance in “Flight” as past history has shown Oscar likes alcoholics and drug addicts. Washington does give an award winning performance but is let down by the screenplay by John Gatins and the direction of Robert Zemeckis.
“Flight” is not the film you think it is from the coming attractions which centers on the plane crash, and though while thrilling, the film tells the story of a man, Whip Whitaker, played by Washington, who is addicted to alcohol and drugs and pilots a commercial plane, no pun intended, automatically. The film opens with him and a flight attendant, Katerina (Nadine Velazquez) getting ready for their flight after a night and morning of sex, booze and drugs followed by the harrowing plane crash that everyone says only Whitaker could have saved all but 6 lives on board whereas any other pilot would have had a total loss of all.
Along the way we meet his co-pilot Ken (Brian Geraghty), another flight attendant Margaret (Tamara Tunie, the union rep Charlie (Bruce Greenwood) and defense lawyer Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle). The latter two are brought in because a toxicology report taken at the hospital shows that he had alcohol and cocaine in his system plus 3 empty mini vodka bottles were found in the garbage, that only the crew had access to, and only he and Katerina’s blood work shows positive for alcohol. In the same hospital, sneaking a smoke on the staircase, Whitaker meets Nicole (Kelly Reilly) who is a recovering addict and they proceed to become involved.
Whitaker is soon facing an investigation led by Ellen Block (Melissa Leo) of the National Transportation Safety Board where he has to decide whether to own up to his addiction, in which case he will face prison time, or blame Katrina, who died, for those 3 empty bottles and continue with his life of addiction and flying.
While the airplane scene is harrowing, and not to be soon forgotten, the director and screenplay writer err in letting the movie run 15 minutes more than it should have, introducing the romance that adds nothing to the picture, instead of concentrating more on the cause of Whitaker’s addictions and where it would lead after the hearing. The final decision that he makes at the hearing has not been shown by any actions or words that the path he will personally take are logical. Zemeckis does a good job with showing the foibles of men, the plane scenes and some very private moments that and addict faces.
Denzel Washington really gives an award winning performance and is one of the few actors who could have the audience on his side in a role like this. Also, though doing what amounts to a cameo, John Goodman as Whitaker’s drug supplier, brings much needed humor when he appears on screen though the idea of a dealer isn’t funny. He, obviously, partakes of his products!
“Flight” would have been an excellent movie if edited by 20 minutes but should be seen for Washington’s performance and the plane crash scene.