a film review
by Jeanne Powell
Denzel Washington delivers a fascinating performance as a troubled airline pilot in “Flight.” This film, directed by Robert Zemeckis, has Oscar™ nomination written all over it.
Washington initially trained for the stage with the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. His transition to television (“St. Elsewhere” series) preceded an impressive career in films. Denzel as hero always comes to mind because of his performances in films such as “Cry Freedom” in 1987, “Glory” in 1989, "Mississippi Masala" in 1991, “Malcolm X” in 1992, “The Siege” in 1998, “The Hurricane” in 1999 and “Great Debaters” in 2007.
He has given us flawed characters before – the renegade cop in “Training Day,” the brilliant and calculating hoodlum in “American Gangster ,” and the combat officer suffering battle fatigue in “Courage Under Fire.”
Nothing prepares us for pilot Whip Whitaker in “Flight.” This collaboration between director Robert Zemeckis, actor Denzel Washington and screenwriter John Gatins brings us a gifted pilot with a larger-than-life capacity for lying to others and deluding himself.
With full frontal female nudity in the opening scene, outrageous humor and more cocaine snorting than you ever wanted to see, along with frequent use of the “F” word, the film deserves its “R” rating and does get your attention. This is how Captain Whip Whitaker lives. And his career seems none the worse for it. There are people everyday who balance an impressive public image with shocking private lives, until they can’t do it anymore.
Will Whip be undone by the plane crash? Equipment malfunction is what he claims and the NTSB investigation confirms Whip’s diagnosis. However, the plane did crash, and six people died. His attorney (subtle performance by Don Cheadle) coolly reminds the airline CEO that only four deaths have to be accounted for; the other two deaths were those of airline employees who “assumed the risk.”
If excessive alcohol consumption and illicit drug use are a mystery to you, then this film will be an education. Where do secret consumers hide their drugs and booze? Well, the answer is e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e. Cleverly scripted to show rather than tell, the film and Denzel’s performance allow us to experience the toxic spiral of a capable man who leaves debris everywhere – a failed marriage, an angry son of that marriage, and the distinguished heritage of his father, who flew a P-51 as a member of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen.
John Goodman is obscenely hilarious as Harly Mays, the candyman, Whip's dealer on speed-dial, his very own “Dr. Feelgood.” When he flies into the expensive hotel room where Whip is waiting with his clueless union rep and his unsuspecting attorney, ready to do what he does best, the viewer is entertained, educated and shocked all at once. These moments are coupled with electrifying rock music to approximate the condition of being high, the sense of extraordinary well-being, the exhilaration and invincibility. How high will Whitaker fly with those cool aviator sunglasses shielding his secret? How far will he fall?
In a Denzel Washington film, there is more than mere entertainment. Without preaching, the film brings up the possibility that we are an addictive society, with millions of middle Americans hooked on prescription medication, illicit drugs and/or alcohol – the biggest drug of all. Due to the magic of science, there are legal consequences to indiscreet consumption at inappropriate times, so Captain Whitaker’s balancing act gets trickier when his blood alcohol level is tested. And we watch, mesmerized by a gifted man dancing on a high-rise ledge, wondering how long he can keep it going.
Several minutes before the passenger liner crashes, Captain Whitaker has to engage in extreme maneuvers when he realizes the equipment is malfunctioning, and the special effects for these scenes are impressive. If you have a queasy stomach or were in a plane accident ever, these scenes may be difficult to watch.
A well-paced thriller and an excellent character study, “Flight” is sure to generate all kinds of discussion and all kinds of Oscar™ buzz for Denzel Washington and the director. Three boxes of popcorn.
Causes Jeanne Powell Supports
Union of Concerned Scientists, VVAW (Vietnam Veterans Against War), Doctors Without Borders, Waterkeeper Alliance, PSR (Physicians for Social Responsibility...