Review by Luke Whitmire

Robert Zemeckis returns to live-action filmmaking after 10 years with Flight, another instant classic on par with his previous cinema- Forest Gump, Back to the Future, What Lies Beneath and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. An absorbing, sophisticated morality play that accentuates real life issues.
The first 20 minutes of Flight is like digging around in a garbage can looking for something good. We see a sordid, apathetic and lost pilot, Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) disabled and morally destitute. We are immediately thrust into Whip’s dark world of drugs, sex and separation from his wife and son, that you begin to question if this (Hard R) really is a Robert Zemeckis film. Zemeckis paints a very bleak portrait of our main protagonist and supporting characters like we have never seen before from any of his later films. The only film I remember being remotely intense and melodramatic from Zemeckis is Forest Gump. But even that film punctuates with light-hearted, family moments that uplift and satisfy. 

Denzel Washington as “Whip Whitaker” in Flight

In Flight, we witness a selfish, egocentric, raging alcoholic who doesn’t care about anything other than drinking incessantly and doing rounds of cocaine with his beautiful, curvaceous, druggy girlfriend, Katerina Marquez (Nadine Velazquez). This is Denzel like we’ve never seen before. And I have to say, it is a fantastic, compelling journey to watch him spiral into darkness for two-and-a-half-hours.

Writer John Gatins does an impeccable job getting deep inside the dark heart and soul of Whip, letting us see the layers of his vicious rage and immorality. Gatins narrative is set in motion by a plane crash, that leads to the floundering of a heavy, sluggardly Captain Whip, who is accused of being intoxicated while flying. But it’s not Whip’s dilapidated state, however, but a mechanical systems failure that puts the plane in a rapid nose dive. With great experience and dexterity, Whip improvises a miraculous plan and saves ninety-six of the one hundred-two passengers on board. He is deemed a hero, but accusations will soon follow.

The essence of Flight is not just about drug addiction, but about integrity, the value of truth. This is where the film really soars. There are those willing on both sides of the spectrum to cover up the truth that Whip was inebriated, just so they can fabricate a moral hero and save a pilots union. One of those desperate to cover it up is Chicago Lawyer, Huge Lang (Don Cheadle). He comes in to do damage-control at the behest of a pilot’s union representative, Charlie Anderson (Brian Greenwood), an old Navy pilot friend of Whip’s. Then there’s lead National Transportation Safety Board attorney, Ellen Block (Melissa Leo), doing a bit of manipulating herself, and she is another one who can be a master manipulator in her realm of work. But it’s Cheadle that gets the most screen time as the master of covering things up, a lawyer who boasts never loosing court cases.
Flight doesn’t just focus on Washington and his malefactions, we are introduced to another decaying soul, Nicole (Kelly Reilly) an addict and prostitute who meets Whip in the hospital right after the crash; she’s in for a drug overdose. The two share a personal one-on-one time in the Hospital stairwell, becoming partners that redeem each other for a short period of time. They eventually move in together, and Whip dumps all of his booze and drugs down the toilet, and she stops getting high.
Their relationship is the emotional core of the film, and when Nicole decides to leave, Whip becomes unhinged once again and surrenders to his old demons.

Denzel and Don Cheadle

These scenes with Whip regressing are very ugly and depressing. A man who lifts himself up by the heart and soul of this woman, now is diminishing to a man without reason or a purpose. This is the only part in the film that suffers a bit. We have a very long second act of boozing and drug use that drags on far too long. 

The great John Goodman makes a substantial impact as the jovial, quirky drug dealer, who supplies Whip with his weekly narcotics to function in reality. Goodman is only in a few scenes, but is a joy to watch When interacting with Whip.
Bottom line: Flight is a very absorbing film that will take hold and never let you go. This is the type of film that will have you thinking about the message for a very long time. Robert Zemeckis gives us a sophisticated, mature human drama that soars high with a strong message.
* * * *
4 out of 5 stars