Flight is a deceptive movie dressed up as a less-than-average B film with a decent cast. Its advertising was less than stellar and it was released a little before awards season in the fall. I had zero interest in seeing it until everyone I knew started giving it rave reviews and the Academy nominated it for more than Best Actor. After finally seeing it for myself, I understand all of the hype and am in love with this film.
Whip (Denzel Washington) is a commercial airline pilot with a lot of hours under his belt. He knows the flight crew intimately for the most part and is a legend in his own right. We first meet him in a dank hotel room surrounded by alcohol and a naked woman while he fights about money on the phone with his ex-wife. He then does a couple lines of coke to wake himself up before reporting to work. Needless to say, his private life is not something the general populace wants from their pilot.
The beginning of the film is entirely about the flight, its terrifying ride from start to finish, and Whip’s incredible cool-headed genius in the air. His co-pilot is relatively new and obviously nervous. The flight attendants are all experienced. They begin their journey passing through some extreme turbulence, but Whip calmly brings them through it and then promptly goes to sleep. It is only when the co-pilot wakes him because it’s about time to make their decent that he is back on the job, and in a big way. The plane jumps into a dive that neither pilot can pull it out of. Engines catch fire, passengers scream, and all the while Whip gives orders and keep the crew calm enough to do their jobs. He inverts the plane to stop the dive and eventually lands it in a field just past a church. Only six people die.
The rest of the film is both about the investigation into the cause of the crash and about Whip’s full and complete addiction. It has taken his marriage, it might take his job, and it might even take his life. Despite his heroism in the air and the fact that no one could have landed that plane and saved anyone’s lives, the heartbreak that consumes his personal life is about to break free. His has been lying for a long time, but he might not be able to lie any more, and that scares him more than the plane crash.
The acting is phenomenal. Washington is obviously a knock out who is so subtle in his delivery that it is flawless. There are a few interesting characters and side-plots within the screenplay that make it full and vibrant, but really this is a story about Whip and his wake-up call. This is about a man who is forced to take responsibility when his addiction has never allowed it before.
The flight sequence was certainly my favorite part, but the true grit of the story is what makes this movie great. You could not have the beginning without the end, and vice versa. This story as a whole is so stellar that it is impressive it did not walk away with the Oscar. A lot of nominations are sad and dirty, and this film is no different, but in the end there is redemption and throughout it there is also joy and discovery. Whip needed this crash more than anyone.
From a director who doesn’t usually direct action, there are no flaws during the flight. It is an edge of your seat moment from beginning to end. Impressively, the drama of the rest of the film is almost as nail biting. If you want to see this film, please be aware that it is rated R and choose accordingly, but I enjoyed it so much that I can’t not recommend that you see it!