Yes, in opening moments of Flight, the latest movie from Robert Zemeckis, airline pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) wakes up in bed with a hot, fully nude flight attendant (Nadine Velazquez). The thing you learn from this scene is that Whip is a pimp. Well, that's not all you learn, but we'll get to that.
Shortly after, on a short, routine flight from Florida to Georgia, there's a mechanical failure on the plane. It's not a spoiler to tell you that Whip is able to miraculously crash-land the plane with a minimum of casualties. Even though it's only a few minutes, it's another time where I wish the trailer wouldn't have shown as much as it did regarding the crash. It's still an extremely tense scene though. I would imagine if you fly a lot, then it's really going to play with your head.
In the aftermath of the crash, the NTSB investigates to find the cause. This casts a light on Whip, as it was found he had drugs in his system at the time of the crash. It's not as simple as him just having a few beers the night before or being a little hung over either. This is a serious offense, and can mean prison time, so a lawyer, played by Don Cheadle, is sent in to help Whip get out of trouble. That's where the movie takes a different turn from where you think it's going. Flight is more of a character study about struggling with denial and addition. Initially, the accident sobers him up, but once he realizes he's under investigation, the stress throws him in a downward spiral.
You get frustrated and angry watching him, and you see that he's not exactly a great guy. There's a reason he's divorced and hasn't seen his son. He pushes everyone away that is trying to help him, and just can't get out of his own way. It's an example of a high-functioning alcoholic that doesn't see a problem with his behavior. He points out that he just did this amazing thing that nobody else would have been able to do, and that his state has nothing to do with the mechanical failures of the plane. While he has a point, there's still a certain responsibility he doesn't want to accept.
Despite all of this, Whip still manages to be sympathetic. This is mainly due to the great performance from Denzel Washington. Is it an Oscar-worthy performance though? You bet! Seriously though, Denzel is the type of actor where anytime he takes on a serious role he's going to get some consideration. One thing that's great about his performance is that it's not larger-than-life or too similar to his performance in Training Day. It's more subtle than that, and there's a sadness that comes through. It is performance worthy of consideration, but he's going to have some stiff competition, like from John Hawkes in The Sessions.
It's isn't a perfect film though. The story itself covers familiar territory, sometimes done better in other films. While the movie is funnier than I expected, sometimes the humor seemed a little out of place. Additionally, there's a character introduced at the beginning of the film, played by Kelly Reilly, that's also an addict. As the movie starts you wonder why she's even in the film. While it makes sense as the movie goes on, it seemed like they focused on her a little too much in the beginning for the amount of time she actually got as the story went on. It's nothing against Kelly Reilly's performance though, as I also thought she was very good.
Robert Zemeckis has always been a favorite director of mine, and he didn't disappoint me here after taking a long break from live-action films. As mentioned earlier regarding the humor, the tone of the film can be a little uneven. I did think it stopped short of being overly melodramatic though, which is a good thing. There are a few times John Gatins' screenplay did some things that were a little frustrating to me, and could have almost ruined the film, but overall the strengths outweigh the weaknesses. I always talk about pacing, and while Flight is almost 2 hours and 20 minutes, I felt like it was gone in a flash. I was stunned when I checked my phone after the movie and saw what time it was.
Flight is a really good, but not perfect film. If anything, I'm sure it will make you take a really hard look at the pilot the next time you fly somewhere, or maybe yourself the next time you take a drink. All kidding aside, it's a tense character study that's worth seeing alone for Denzel Washington's brilliant performance (and the opening sequence). I highly recommend it.
4 (out of 5) Death Stars