Directed by: Robert Zebecks
Starring: Denzel Washington, Nadine Velaquez, Don Cheadle
An alarm pings, buzzing sharply. A woman’s breast moves into frame. She stands completely naked and waltzes through a trashed hotel room. In the bed is Denzel Washington, out cold to the world. His mobile yells at him, waking him from his hung-over slumber. He answers it and argues with his ex-wife about their son’s tuition fees. In-between his swearing and shouting, he calms with a swig of beer. Just before slamming the phone down he tells them he will be there soon as his flight is in less than two hours. The woman lights a spliff and straddles him, larking about the relationship they hold. They both inhale deeply from the joint before starting to prepare for their flight. He swivels out of bed and leans over to the bedside table. He starts to chop at a mound of cocaine, lines it up, and snorts. The camera wallops into his face as the hit knocks him for six. We move into the hallway, the hotel door opens and Denzel strolls out. This guy is our pilot!
Captain Whittaker boards his plane and greets his crew. He meets his new co-pilot and instantly gives a bad first impression by asking for aspirin and unusual procedures upon starting a flight. As they take off a storm is brewing overhead, not metaphorically but eventually symbolically and Whip pushes through it despite his co-pilot’s lack of trust. When Whip proves to be right he heads to the cabin and celebrates by lacing his own drink with vodka, whilst charming the crew into believing he is their trustworthy Captain. After this he takes a nap, covering his eyes with newspapers and has the co-pilot take complete control of the plane. He wakes to a plane malfunction, which kicks his brain into overdrive. The plane begins to nose dive and Whittaker’s fast thinking and calming presence helps save nearly everyone on board. He rolls the plane, inverting it upside down in order to level it off, before swinging it back over to glide it into a field. Could this man have done this sober? Was his quick thinking due to his fragile state? Did his intoxication lead to the accident?
The opening is powerful and the initial tone is different than you would expect from a Robert Zemeckis film. You’re hooked right from the start and you’re hooked deeply, completely unaware of what you’re about to be put through. You thought this was the conflict between whether the pilot had some beers a few nights before? You were wrong; this is the story of a man who lives life intoxicated. Denzel Washington’s character Whip Whittaker is a troubled man and the film delves deep whilst exploring the theme of addiction. You won’t expect Flight to be quite so thought provoking, and for those who expected to see a simple film about a pilot facing a dilemma after a plane crash, you would be wrong.
Flight is a character study of someone you’re not sure whether you should like or dislike. Drink is the antagonist of the film and you feel frustration every time you see this man reaching to have another one. He continually tries to stop but fails within minutes and the character must spend eighty percent of this film out of his skull. Along the way he meets characters that potentially should inspire him, characters that seem to have it worse even though that’s not the reality. He meets Nicole (Kelly Reilly), a recovering heroin addict, who’s combating her illness. Initially she’s in a worse place than Whittaker but you come to realise that it’s infact the other way around, as at least she can admit she has a problem. Nicole has learnt to be calm, to face the situation, except fate and fight it. Whittaker is only calm in an environment he can accept and trust, and in this instance it was in a nose diving plane. The deep themes of religion and fate suggest that God helped him survive the crash in order to battle a bigger problem. The symbols of this you can recall as far back as when the wing of the plane crashes through a church.
It’s a very deep film, with many scenes of Whittaker fighting his urge alone. This at times could become a little long-winded and tedious. The film runs for nearly two and a half hours and it feels as if the middle could’ve been trimmed. The general pace is quite slow but between scenes we move forward in time rather quickly, which shows a slight problem with the films development. If they’d found a middle ground we may have been given a shorter but tighter film.
Looking away from the story to the actors it’s safe to say that Washington deserves his Oscar nomination. He’s remarkable in this role, possibly one of the best we’ve seen from him in years. He’s powerful, charismatic and internally troubled, which all comes across in this excellent performance. Kelly Reilly’s opening few scenes are equally as moving and powerful. She soars through the film turning into a symbol of resurrection. Her character’s relationship with Whittaker doesn’t have enough chemistry but they’re still on top form. Cheadle and Greenwood are also very good, although highly understated, though John Goodman as Whittaker’s dealer is a rather pointless addition for comedic effect it seems.
The plane crash at the beginning is highly realistic and tense, but Whittaker’s battle with a humming fridge is just as suspenseful. Light hearted and quirky like Robert Zemeckis’ previous films this certainly is not. The acting is strong, the story is deep, and it really opens your eyes to the internal dilemmas people of this world face. Many films this year have already caused tears in the cinema and the emotional ending here will have you reaching for those tissues once again.