Denzel takes “Flight” in superb new film
Denzel Washington turns in one of the best performances of his already-impressive career playing an alcoholic airline pilot in the new movie “Flight.” This is an ambiguous movie where the pilot’s ability to manage his alcohol and drug abuse turn him into both a charismatic hero and a tragic figure. It makes for a messy, but very well-crafted adult drama that could easily propel Washington to an Academy Award nomination a few months from now.
Washington plays Captain “Whip” Whitaker, a man who starts his days frolicking with naked flight attendants, doing a line of coke and downing a few screwdrivers right before telling his passengers to prepare for takeoff. He’s a disaster waiting to happen.
Cue a real disaster; a mechanical failure that spells imminent doom. It’s only due to Whip’s daredevil piloting skills that he manages to save the lives of most of the passengers on his plane.
Whip becomes a national hero, but the alcohol levels in his blood taken right after the crash threaten to knock him off his media pedestal. Is he the hero that saved most of his passengers from certain death? Or is he the drunk who will be blamed for the crash? Either way, it certainly appears that our hero-pilot is still on a crash course with his own inner demons.
That interpersonal conflict makes up the bulk of the movie, but it should be noted that “Flight” opens on a more action-centric note, giving us one of the most horrifying disaster sequences ever committed to film. The camera takes us right into the chaos of the seemingly-doomed cockpit, never giving us the chance to step back and catch our breath. It’s edge of your seat stuff, but also a bit misleading as the rest of the film stays grounded in the personal fight of the pilot trying to regain control and/or avoid the consequences of his addiction.
This is where Washington really shines. He’s such a charismatic actor that it’s easy to cheer him on, even though we might be disgusted by his actions. It helps that he’s surrounded by a rock-solid supporting cast, some of them playing characters who are almost as messed up as Whip. Only John Goodman strikes a sour note, playing his character so over-the-top that it doesn’t quite mesh with the rest of the film’s quieter performances.
Despite that misgiving, “Flight” is a superb drama featuring one of the best performances of the year. It’s interesting to note that this is director Robert Zemeckis’ return to live action filmmaking after more than a decade of working on animated films. It’s great to see that he hasn’t lost his touch for making serious dramas, and dramas that are seriously good.
Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.