review: flight

By Chris Robinson on 11/23/2012

Flight opens with the raw, naked aftermath of a drug-fueled late night encounter.  The physical nudity is relatively brief, but the intimacy lingers: throughout the movie, the audience is afforded an up-close, unflinching view of a life slowly ravaged by addiction.

Synopsis – An airline pilot saves a flight from crashing, but an investigation into the malfunctions reveals something troubling.  Trailer

Details: starring Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Don Cheadle, John Goodman

Rating/Runtime: R/138 min.

Dingo Dictum: B+

 

 

The film follows Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington), an airline pilot with a glittering military past and a troubled personal life. Divorced, and estranged from his only son, Whip finds solace in spirits, snuff, and sex. But before we are fully introduced to his problems, he proves his mettle with an incredible act of heroism: in charge of a faulty plane that unexpectedly stalls mid-flight, Whip steels his nerve, masterfully coaxes his flight crew into helping him execute a miraculous aeronautical maneuver, and saves the lives of (nearly) all on board. At first Whip is hailed as a hero, but a post-crash investigation reveals troubling details about his fitness to fly that day.  He spends the rest of the movie trying to face up to his demons, shake his dependencies, and reconcile with those who matter most to him.  His success will depend on many factors, not least of which being his willingness to make that crucial admission (famous from “AA” meetings): “I am an alcoholic.”  As Whip devolves further into a vortex of self-destruction, we see him stripped completely bare – of his friends, his family, and finally, his self-respect.

Mesmerizing in the lead role, Denzel does his best work since Training Day (2002); his performance is second to none this year (except, in my opinion, Daniel Day-Lewis’ stunning portrayal of Honest Abe in Lincoln). Washington lets the audience in on the slow, painful (and sometimes painful to watch) fall of a strong, proud man laid low by his own inability to govern himself.  Kelly Reilly, a relative newcomer, gives a fragile, soulful performance as Nicole, Whip’s love interest and fellow addict.  John Goodman plays Whip’s drug buddy Harling Mays, a hilariously oblivious enabler, and always reliable Don Cheadle is Hugh Lang, Whip’s exasperated lawyer.

The picture represents the first studio offering from director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump) since 2009’s A Christmas Carol, and his first live-action success since Cast Away (2000). It is by no means devoid of impressive special effects, but at its core Flight is a thoughtful character study, and could even be called a morality tale.

Whatever you choose to call it, the film represents Zemeckis and (especially) Washington at their best. Troubling but ultimately cathartic, Flight is engaging, thought-provoking, and emotionally satisfying.  Δ

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