I’m getting a little repetitive in my reviews here lately, but it can’t be helped. There’s just some good stuff coming out of Hollywood lately, and the last few movies I’ve seen have been amazing. Flight was another recent addition to what’s been a great year in film. Denzel Washington (Safe House) is one of the preeminent actors of our generation, obviously. We already know that he’s talented and marketable, but I think that the further along and more settled an actor becomes in their career, the less likely they are to take risks or to stretch themselves. Washington has made a career out of being the hero, and when I initially saw the trailer for Flight, I assumed it would be more of the same. Like, you saved people from a train (Unstoppable), and now you’re going to save people on a plane. Been there, done that. But after watching Flight, I was simply blown away.
Washington stars as Whip Whitaker, a seasoned commercial pilot whose experience, knowledge, and gumption make him one of the best. While he’s in complete control in the cockpit, his personal life on the ground is much rockier. He has a contentious relationship with his ex-wife and is estranged from their teenaged son. The movie begins in a hotel room with Whip GETTING. IT. IN. I mean, whatever you’re into – he had it; pick your poison. Coke? Check. Drink? Check. Weed? Check. I thought he was just having a good time, so imagine my surprise when he and his lovely bedmate mention their impending flight! I like revealing, expository opening scenes, and director Robert Zemeckis (Cast Away) expertly told us all we needed to know about Whip in five short minutes. Well, almost all we needed to know.
Let’s jump to the actual flight, which includes one of the most intense scenes I’ve ever witnessed on the silver screen. The real trouble starts when the plane takes an unexpected nosedive about 20 minutes into the flight. Folks, let me pause here. This scene was nothing short of amazing. I have to tip my hat to Zemeckis for this because I’ve never been so riveted by a single movie scene, and I swear I’ve seen it all at this point. My movie buddy clutched my thigh, and my eyes began to water. That’s how amazing this crash scene was. Everything was depicted perfectly, from the panic and terror of the passengers, to the bravery and sacrifice of the flight attendants as Whip once again showed his mettle. To stabilize the plane, he inverts it…and they fly upside down! The plane levels off and he rights the aircraft, lessening the inevitable impact of the crash while lives hung in the balance. To put it simply…Whip is The Motherfucking Man.
I’ve chosen my words carefully and tried not to reveal anything that I don’t think you’d already have gleaned from the trailer. Whip’s aviation abilities are above reproach, but his pre-flight behavior was indicative of a man with a serious problem. After the crash, that behavior is scrutinized and it’s revealed over the course of the film that Whip is a raging alcoholic. The depths of addiction know no bounds, and I’m speaking from experience. If you’ve never struggled with it or known someone who has, some of the things Washington’s character does will seem unbelievable, but I thought it was spot-on. Anyone who has dealt with addiction knows there’s a dark place you have to go before you can vanquish whatever demon threatens you – and that place is called Rock Bottom. I was greatly impressed with Washington’s ability to portray a character that was deeply flawed, yet sympathetic. His obvious addiction is expertly juxtaposed with the heroism and skill he displayed on the flight. As a viewer, you want to despise the recklessness of his actions one minute and applaud him the next. That conflicting duality of his personality made for an excellent film. We are the sum of our parts, but it was hard to define Whip Whitaker at times.
Flight literally took my breath away, it was that good. Washington is a force to be reckoned with and he swagged all over this joint. His sex symbol status is different now, and I could have done without the shot of his booty, but he is still handsome and oozes charisma. I’ve never seen him in such a fluid role, where the dichotomy between right and wrong and hero and villain becomes blurred by circumstance. Actress Kelly Reilly (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) was also a revelation in her role. I’d never heard of her before this, but she was a wonderful counterbalance to Whip’s addictive personality, as they forged a tentative romance that never really had a fair shot. Go see this movie! Grade: A.