Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood, Melissa Leo
Written by: John Gatins
Running Time: 138 mins
Release date: 1st February 2013
Captain William “Whip” Whitaker is in control of a flight to Atlanta. Suffering from the night before, his actions are somewhat shocking to his co-pilot and his erratic behaviour to get them out of a storm doesn’t impress him. Then the plane has a malfunction and goes into a nose dive. As panic sets in, Whitaker takes the control calmly and to save them from crashing into a residential area, flips the plane over to level it out before righting it and gliding into a field where it finally crashes, miraculously only killing 6 people, two of which were crew members. Whip is hailed a hero but it’s only the start of his problems as he is found to have drink and cocaine in his blood. Was it a mechanical fault or did Whip seriously endanger the passengers lives and can Whip control his alcohol problem?
Flight sees the return to directing live action for Oscar winner Robert Zemeckis and it’s a very welcome return because this is the type of film Zemeckis can do with his eyes closed. Powerful dramas with an incredible central lead. You can’t get any better than Denzel Washington, also back from the wilderness, as such, after a string of action films, to delivering a belter of a performance.
The film starts off with a heart-stopping 30 mins in which we are literally in the cockpit of the plane as it heads to destruction. It is a masterful piece of cinema and quite possibly one of the scenes of 2013 already. Like the final part of Argo, you are gripped by this and the special effects are incredible. If you have a fear of flying, this isn’t going to help one bit.
Once we are on solid ground, the film then heads down that bumpy path of melodrama and heighten sympathy, yet with Zemeckis leading the field and allowing Washington to act his socks off, this just about manages to stay on course and not get too sloppy until the final act. Any lesser film maker would have laid the sympathy on thick with a shovel but Zemeckis knows how to manipulate his audience and takes them on a slow burning journey before that, allowing us to fully understand the main character. This is where Washington plays his trump card.
His performance is amazing. This is a very troubled man with a condition he refuses to accept and no matter how many times he is told, he shuts it out. This is a man who doesn’t want to stop drinking, he can’t. Washington’s power as an actor is that he can take a man like Whip, who you really shouldn’t like, all cocky and arrogant, and make him human so you do feel for his plight, even if he is being a stubborn sob. Underneath all that, the truth lies within his eyes and it’s a performance that can be rated up there with his other crowning glories, Training Day, Glory etc.
Ably supported by a solid cast; Don Cheadle as the lawyer who takes on the defence for Whip’s case, is a nicely subtle and quietly understated performance, Brit Kelly Reilly as Nicole, a drug dependant who can see what drink is doing to the man she loves. Her’s is a solid role that should bring her bigger performances in the future. There’s also the ever reliable John Goodman, who is always refreshing to see on screen, with another larger-than-life performance as the man who helps Whip get out of his drunken stupor by very unethical means. It is a funny and light turn and is needed to break up what is a very heavy going film. Heavy going in a good way, that is.
This isn’t about supporting roles, this is Washington’s show and it isn’t a surprise that he is nominated for Best Actor at this year’s Oscars. Even if the film doesn’t take off as much as the first half hour, it is still riveting thanks to Denzel. When an actor like him delivers, everyone should stop and pay attention.