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Flight: High and Drunk With Denzel Washington

Updated on December 26, 2017

(Although I tried to refrain from spoilers, this review might include some light ones)

Captain Whip Whitaker (Washington)
Captain Whip Whitaker (Washington) | Source

"Hey, don't tell me how to lie about my drinking, okay? I know how to lie about my drinking. I've been lying about my drinking my whole life." --Captain Whip Whitaker

His name is Captain William "Whip" Whitaker, and he is an alcoholic. The premise of Robert Zemeckis' 2012 film Flight lies in whether Whitaker (played by Denzel Washington) can acknowledge this. Whitaker is a skilled, veteran pilot with a troublesome life. He is divorced, his teenage son doesn't want anything to do with him, and he drinks and uses drugs regularly. Like most addicts, Whitaker seems to be able to handle himself fairly well while keeping his problem conveniently under the rug. However, it is all put into evidence when, during a routine flight from Orlando to Atlanta, his plane suffers a mechanical malfunction that forces him to crash-land the plane in an open field.

Captain William Whitaker (Denzel Washington)
Captain William Whitaker (Denzel Washington) | Source

When he awakens in a hospital, Whitaker finds out that only six out of 102 people died in the crash. He finds himself considered a hero, while experts label his bold flying maneuver as the reason that there weren't more casualties. However, a routine toxicology report taken while he was unconscious reveals that Whitaker was both drunk (0.24 of alcohol level) and high on cocaine. While airline owners, union representatives, and lawyers scramble to get an upper hand, Whitaker has to come face to face with the fact that he might have a problem. Was the alcohol in his system the cause of the crash, or was it the reason why he was able to maneuver the plane so boldly? If he had been clean and sober, would there have been more or less casualties?

Those are some of the questions that Flight breezes through. However, the answers to those questions aren't what the film focuses on. Instead, it focuses on Whitaker's psyche as he struggles to acknowledge and face his addiction. Denzel Washington received numerous award nominations (including for an Oscar) for his performance, and deservedly so. His performance as Whitaker is both powerful and poignant. He manages to infuse the character with that false strength that he wears as a vest, to hide his true, weak nature. Washington's Whitaker goes from a confident and authority-filled pilot to a vulnerable, guilt-ridden man in a believable way.

Whitaker (Washington) and Nicole (Kelly Reilly)
Whitaker (Washington) and Nicole (Kelly Reilly) | Source

However, for everything the film has in its lead actor, it seems to lack on everything else. It's a shame that a film with such an excellent lead talent, and a powerful and interesting premise is dragged down by a weak script, some formulaic plot developments, and a few odd directorial choices. For example, most of the film's middle act is devoted to a relationship that Whitaker develops with Nicole (Kelly Reilly), a fellow addict he met at the hospital. Although Reilly does a fine job with the role, the relationship feels forced, and ultimately adds little to the film. Nicole is mostly a plot device to walk Whitaker through a stretch of the path.

Another problem I had with the film was with John Goodman's character of Harling Mays, Whitaker's best friend and drug dealer. Goodman's performance felt mostly out of place for a supposedly dramatic film, but it is more noticeable during a climatic scene when he is contacted to help Whitaker before a hearing. Zemeckis directed a scene that could've been powerful and tragic in such an awkward, almost comical way, that it took me out of the film completely. Co-stars Bruce Greenwood and Don Cheadle also have little to do in the film, and their interaction with Mays in this scene only made it all more awkward.

Captain William Whitaker (Washington)... ready for the action?
Captain William Whitaker (Washington)... ready for the action? | Source
Release date
November 2, 2012
Robert Zemeckis
John Gatins
Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman, Don Cheadle
138 minutes
Box office

All things considered, Flight isn't a bad film. But it's the kind of film that you feel could've been, or should've been better. Like its main character, Flight has all the potential to be great (a talented director, a good cast, an interesting premise). Unfortunately, just like Washington's character, the film ends up succumbing to the vices of mediocre and formulaic writing. It is mostly because of Washington that the trip feels worth something. Grade: C+.

Rotten Tomatoes
7.3 /10

Flight Trailer


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