Ten years after its theatrical release, the Oscar-nominated Flight still holds up as Denzel Washington turns in one of his best performances.
Veteran airline pilot Captain William “Whip” Whitaker (Denzel Washington) crash lands a MD-80 series aircraft and somehow survives the event. It’s a miracle that even made it beyond the departure, what with a storm and all. After that, things went from a sigh of relief to G-d help us all in a matter of moments. All in all, 96 out of 102 people on board survived the crash. The casualties included two members of the crew and four passengers. While people initially view Whip as a hero, things take a turn as answers come out during the investigation. One question that the film leaves the audience to ponder: is Whip still a hero even if he was under the influence? Had he been sober, would he have made the same decisions or a different one? It’s a good question.
Could anyone else have landed the plane with the survival rate? Doubtful. Nobody else could land the plane during the NTSB’s trial simulations during their investigation. While the investigation is going on, Whip is able to convince the few surviving crew members to cover up for his addition. Unfortunately, co-pilot Ken Evans (Brian Geraghty), who suffered a coma, might never walk again after the ordeal. Union rep and longtime friend Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood) rallies around Whip as does attorney Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle).
Let’s get one thing out of the way right now in that the film is inspired by a true story. They liberally borrow from real life events in order to drive the drama but that’s it. As a result, the plane depicted on screen is related to the MD-83. Among the things that John Gatins’ screenplay recreates are some of the radio conversations, the inverted flying, and broken jackscrew causing the crash. Interestingly, Gatins first started developing an interest in writing this film in 1999, ten years before the Miracle on the Hudson. To add to the film’s drama, Gatins injected his own personal life into the script. It certainly makes for a more compelling character and would help result in an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
Flight is a real character study as we get to the bottom of Whip’s addiction struggles. Whip’s life is falling apart in front of our very eyes. What should have been a routine departure from a Florida airport may have turned Whip into a national hero but the investigation very quickly sees him spiraling in a fall from grace. Listen, there’s no good guy and bad guy here. NTSB’s lead investigator Ellen Block (Melissa Leo) is just doing her job and brings the truth out into the forefront.
One thing I like in Zemeckis’ direction of the film is how they shot it in order. In doing so, we’re able to watch the tension escalate as things are happening on screen. I mean, you watch the first scene take place and then see what transpires next. On one level, it makes you second-guess the decision to get on a plane because there’s a level of trust in a person taking us from point A to point B. Anyway, this directional choice is one of the reasons why Denzel Washington picked up another acting nomination and deservingly so. As an audience, we’re watching him disappear into the role of this anti-hero.
Led by Denzel Washington’s top-notch performance in Flight, Robert Zemeckis’ return to live-action was worth the wait.
DIRECTOR: Robert Zemeckis
SCREENWRITER: John Gatins
CAST: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood, Brian Geraghty, Tamara Tunie, and Melissa Leo
Paramount released Flight in theaters on November 2, 2012. Grade: 4.5/5
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