There has been a lot of chatter about “Flight.” I sort of expected something like “The High and the Mighty,” the ’50s hero airline pilot film. Instead, we get something more like “28 Days,” the Sandra Bullock rehab flick of some years ago. And Denzel Washington makes it work magnificently.
Washington plays pilot Whip Whitaker, a divorced boozer and womanizer heading into the last few years of a successful career. We meet him the morning before a flight when he wakes up in his hotel room with one of his flight attendants. Warning — Nadine Velazquez is a very beautiful actress and absolutely nothing is left to the viewer’s imagination as to just how lovely she is. This is an R rated film.
Hung over and maybe still drunk, Whip clears his head with some cocaine and heads for work.
Due to an investigation, proven mechanical malfunction the aircraft doesn’t make it to the airport. Whip’s amazing flying ability is the only reason that it lands at all, saving nearly 100 people. When we know Whip as a rogue, Washington makes us like the guy. When he is a super pilot, Washington makes us admire him. When we discover his serial addictions, he makes us root for Whip and we wish him well. At each stage Washington is convincing, accessible and just plain grand. I thought the film to be about spiritual heroism and redemption. And there is some cool airplane stuff too.
John Goodman has the chance to play the flamboyant drug supplier pal of the flawed pilot, while Don Cheadle appears as the lawyer who tries to defend the pilot. Kelly Reilly plays a down and out heroin junkie who finds Whip when he is at his lowest. All are well played minor planets to the blazing sun that is Denzel Washington.
This is a strong three-and-a-half saw blade movie that drama fanciers will enjoy. It is tough to watch as Whip goes into his personal downward spiral, but it is very well acted. It cost a slight $31 million to make and in 17 days has brought in some $63 million, which puts it in the solidly profitable zone. “Flight” runs two hours and 17 minutes.
Director Robert Zemeckis lets his star carry the movie and pretty much avoids making his presence known by doing anything cutesy. He is a successful director of such major hits as “Castaway” and “Forrest Gump.” John Gatins inked the script. He also wrote last year’s robot boxer film “Real Steel.”
“Flight” is a strongly acted drama aimed at the mature adult audience. Powerful dramas used to be the stock in trade in Hollywood, but are less popular now. But movie lovers still appreciate the genre. Denzel Washington is being talked about for an Oscar. He may be contesting the award with Daniel Day Lewis for his role in “Lincoln,” which we will see next week.