Movie Review: Flight

Denzel Washington is a phenomenal actor, capable of playing incredibly flawed character with such powerful charisma and gravitas that whatever they do you still stay on side with them (see American Gangster’s ruthless Frank Lucas or the corrupt police chief he portrayed in Out of Time). There are few who can match Washington when it comes to playing dodgy but mesmerizing, engaging on-screen presences. It what won him an Oscar for 2001’s Training Day and saw him nominated for this movie, although he would ultimately  lose out to Daniel Day Lewis’ work in Lincoln.

It’s not hard to see why he got the nod for this film, because the entire movie hangs on his character and performance.

flight pos

From the moment we’re introduced to his character, Whip Whitaker, we know we’re in familiar “dodgy” territory and this is a guy in need of redemption. Whip is seen waking up in a hotel room, hungover with a naked young lady, Trina (Nadine Velasquez, of My Name is Earl fame), for company. After an argument on the phone with his ex-wife about his son who won’t talk to him. In a rush, he rolls out of bed, does a line of coke to even himself out and heads off to work.

As an airline pilot.

Whip’s in charge of a flight from Orlando to Atlanta, and despite seeming to be rough as ten bears, he manages to get the flight through some heavy turbulence and a smoother flight. Trying to shake his lack of sleep and hangover he doses up on coffee and Aspirin and then uses three Vodka miniatures to provide some hair of the dog, before dozing off as autopilot takes the strain.

Whip wakes up just before it all goes to hell, and the film is sent into a perilous nose dive. Whip then corrects this with an incredibly risky and highly unorthodox maneuver, but has to crash the plane.

Waking up in hospital he discovers that he’s being hailed as a hero, having saved 96 of the 102 people on board, although Trina, who was one of the stewardesses hasn’t made it. His union rep, Charlie (Bruce Greenwood) an old friend is on hand to offer support and a lawyer, Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle), has been hired to defend him in case the airline or manufacturer try to blame him for the crash. Lang’s already shot down a blood test taken which would reveal Whip’s intoxication. Lang is confident of their chances but urges Whip to keep his nose clean until the hearing a few weeks down the way.

Charlie, Lang and Whip (Greenwood, Cheadle and Washington) on their way to the hearing.

Charlie, Lang and Whip (Greenwood, Cheadle and Washington) on their way to the hearing.

Whip escapes the hospital with the aid of his larger than life friend/dealer Harling (John Goodman) who takes him to hide out at his father’s old farm. Whip approaches the survivors of the crew to investigate what they’ve told the authorities and hides out, although he does develop a tentative relationship with Nicole (Kelly Reilly), who he met in the hospital after she suffered a heroin overdose and he helps her get a job and invites her to move in with him.

However, Whip’s self destructive side soon starts to cause problems. The tension builds as the film progresses as the evidence against Whip mounts. Can he avoid prison for his actions, and more importantly, should he?

I kinda dug this movie, you can sort of see where it’s going, but Washington’s performance is so utterly captivating that you get caught up in the ride. He makes Whip an extremely flawed and damaged character, who you can’t help but warm to despite him frequently testing the patience and sympathy of the other characters and the audience.

Washington on fine anti-hero form.

Washington on fine anti-hero form.

Washington plays the character in a fairly low-key way for much of the film, with Whip being a quiet schemer who’s trying to save his own ass, but he does enough to suggest that at some level, despite his protestations there is some lurking conscience and that he does feel some responsibility for his actions. However, he’s on a downward spiral he can’t pull out of and doesn’t seem capable of

The movie does a great job in splitting what the audience wants from the denouement, because part of you wants Whip to get away with it because you don’t want to see the guy in trouble, especially as there’s a nagging doubt that he only pulled off the daring move on the plane because he was too loaded to feel afraid. But as the movie progresses you can’t help that think he needs his comeuppance in order to force him to deal with his issues and get himself together.

With it being such a character driven piece, and with Washington in blistering form, the rest of the cast have very little to do aside from giving him someone to bounce off. That being said, Greenwood and Cheadle do a good job of capturing the frustration of the guys quickly losing patience with Whip’s decisions.

The stand out in the supporting cast is a scene-stealing John Goodman as the swaggering, motor-mouthed drug dealer. From his strutting, Rolling Stones soundtracked entrance on he’s a breath of whirling fresh air into the flick and gets a few laughs along the way.

Goodman as the larger than life Harling

Goodman as the larger than life Harling

The other cast member deserving a mention is Kelly Reilly as Nicole, she does a sensational job in conveying this really tragic fragility and loss of hope in the addict character. She’s extremely endearing in the part and has great scenes with Washington, and the moments when she starts to realize that Whip has his own problems and isn’t the road to happier life that she was hoping for are genuinely moving, and Reilly should be applauded for delivering a performance which never slips into junkie cliche.

Reilly as Nicole, a revelation

Reilly as Nicole, a revelation 

Robert Zemeckis is an accomplished director and is on fine form, with the crash being extremely unsettling especially for nervous flyers like myself and he shoots it with verve and keeps the pace moving, while also doing a good job of handling the changes in tone well enough and there are even a few laughs along the way.

Verdict: Worth seeing for Washington’s amazing central performance. Few surprises, but an accomplished character drama about addiction and redemption. The supporting cast do their jobs well too, even if all are overshadowed. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


2 Comments on “Movie Review: Flight”

  1. CMrok93 says:

    Nice review Chris. Could have been more engaging, like Denzel’s performance, but then again, that’s why the guy is considered such an amazing actor. Every scene that he’s in, he just owns and shows us exactly why he is still the powerhouse force today, as he was known as back in the day.

  2. […] Centred around a typically charismatic performance from Denzel Washington, this is a rather entertaining thriller which leaves you in two minds, partly rooting for the hero to get away with it but knowing he needs to mend his ways. It’s a tad predictable in places, but Washington holds the attention and there’s enough humour to keep it fizzing. Review. […]

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