Thunder claps and flight 227 shakes along with the passengers on board as pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) maneuvers the jet through ominous storm clouds. When the worst seems to be over, what appears to be an equipment failure sends the 102-passenger plane on a nose-dive toward the ground.
A lengthy and highly suspenseful scene ensues as Whitaker attempts to avoid a catastrophic crash. Watching the film, one can hardly avoid feeling almost as if he or she is on the plane. The passengers hold on to whatever they can and scream in terror as the plane plummets. But after a thrilling opening scene, the plot dives down into a far less action-packed story.
“Flight” is largely a story of Whitaker’s conflict within himself as he struggles with drug abuse, contrary to what previews may have had audiences assume. While it is nice to have a break after a heart-racing beginning, it may be disappointing to some that there is little to no action for the remainder of the film.
However, what is lost in action is made up for by Denzel Washington’s performance. The plot is entirely dependent on Washington’s acting abilities, and he does not disappoint. Audience members can sympathize with him and his positive qualities, but also hate him for what can easily be mistaken for weakness as he fights alcoholism. Washington carries the film, and keeps audiences engaged throughout. He does a fantastic job of portraying the horrors of drug addiction. Washington is nominated for Best Actor in this year’s Oscars, and he certainly deserves the nomination if not the award as well.
In addition to the great acting, the music also highlights the mood of the movie. Featuring songs by well-known bands including the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Rolling Stones, each track fits like a puzzle piece with the scene it accompanies. While it is not original music, it is certainly well-chosen.
A couple themes are woven throughout the movie, almost to excess, religion being a big one. Various characters make references to acts of God, including Ken Evans (Brian Geraghty), who claims that “God landed the plane.” Religion is a central part of the movie. At the climax, what sounds like a knock on the door to Whitaker’s hotel room is simply the wind, and leads him to the adjacent room. There he looks into the sky from the window and sees a jet flying overhead. After taking a long look upward, he opens the fridge to find an abundance of liquor — has he changed his ways, or will he give in to the desire for alcohol? The “knocking” is highly suggestive of divine intervention leading Whitaker to the decision of whether or not to drink the alcohol.
Another recurring element is the act of lying. While battling alcoholism, it becomes easy for Whitaker to lie or bend the truth, almost by second-nature. The audience is left to wonder whether he will be suffocated by his web of lies or break the habit in the end.
Despite his many contemptible qualities, the troubled pilot is also very likeable and relatable in many ways. When Nicole (Kelly Reilly) is abused by her landlord, he rescues her in a heroic manner. It is often easy for the audience to sympathize with Whitaker, and feel sorry for him.
This makes it somewhat heart-wrenching and even painful to watch as he continually takes one step forward and followed by one or more steps back. Many times he seems to be making positive changes in his life, when suddenly he reverts to old, familiar behavior. While the film can be quite upsetting at times, and certainly doesn’t have your classic happy ending, it is deeply touching thanks in large part to the masterful work of Denzel Washington.
The whole film may not be a plane crash, but there is still plenty of suspense to make up for the lack of action later on. For those who are easily disturbed, it might be better to stay away. And if you weren’t expecting or interested in a drug addiction-centered plot, then there may be better options. However, Washington’s masterful performance and a drama-filled plot combined to create a film that is moving and certainly worth watching.
2 hours 19 minutes
Rated “R” for drug and alcohol abuse, language, sexuality/nudity and an intense action sequence
With Denzel Washington, Clint Greenwood, Brian Geraghty, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, and Tamara Tunie