Some of the best characters in cinema are contradictions, and Whip from Robert Zemeckis’ Flight is one of them. Whip, played incredibly by Denzel Washington, is a high-functioning alcoholic pilot that manages to save nearly all the lives on a plane when faulty equipment leads to a terrifying emergency landing. In a return to live-action cinema, Zemeckis takes on a project that touches on self-identity and redemption with a great cast and an engaging story.
Zemeckis films chaos very well, both physically and mentally, as he immerses the audience in the hectic events and blistering mind of Whip Whittaker, a pilot married to the bottle. The script is filled with small details that make Whip a broken character that is likable because of his willingness to be courageous, along with his relative inconsistencies and flaws. The film opens up with a quiet, humorous introduction to the character of Whip: a man of liquid courage and misplaced emotions. Zemeckis weaves some intense scenes, giving us a very universal fear of a plane going down. The visual effects of the plane taking a nose dive, along with the stunt-work, make the scenes within the plane shockingly realistic, as if you’re there. After the dust settles, we’re still going on a nose dive, but this time in the mind of Whip.
This is Denzel Washington’s film from beginning to end. Washington, as Whip, is so absorbed by his addiction because his failures in life feed his need for alcohol, causing his life to be a vicious circle of ignorance and pain. It’s as if there’s a pathway with a hole in the ground, and Whip keeps falling into it despite knowing it’s been there the entire time. He can only avoid the hole when he decides to avoid it; that’s life. Whip is broken down alcoholic that has been living in the hold for quite some time, despite the media crowning him a hero. His redemption is moving, as Washington depicts the characters’ vulnerability without ever seeming manipulative. It all feels sincere, influencing the audience to root for him. Some of the supporting cast highlights include John Goodman, playing a coked out drug dealer named Harley, and Kelly Reilly as the heroine addict attempting to quit. Goodman is such a presence on-screen that his magnetic performance allows him to steal a few scenes from Washington. Reilly also puts in a solid performance as Nicole, a heroine addict that believes in change.
Flight starts out with tension filled scenes of a violent plane crash and a courageous pilot drinking demons in a bottle, and sputters out to become a by-the-books story of addiction and redemption; however, Denzel Washington’s performance, the solid script and direction make this film soar.
There will be some audience members that believe that the first half of the film eclipses the third act, mainly because the first half contains the intense landing of the plane and the beginnings of the recovery. It really does follow a by-the-books linear story line and some may be turned off by that.
Some may think that the side story of Nicole wasn’t really necessary, and others may even believe that her side story interweaving with Whip’s is a bit contrived. She doesn’t really make that big of an impact in the story, or may not just seem significant enough.
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