Monday, February 18, 2013

Movie – Flight (2012)

Flight received an Oscar nomination for Denzel Washington’s performance as an alcoholic airline pilot that miraculously saves almost everyone on board when mechanical issues arise.  It also got a nomination for Best Original Screenplay.  In both cases the people nominated face uphill battles if they are going to win.  Regardless of this, Washington gives one of his best performances in years in this film.  He’s really the reason to see it.  He even manages to overcome an ending that does a lot to harm all the good things the film had done up to that point.  I will discuss my problem with the ending in a well marked spoiler section, so you can skip over it if you have not seen the film.

I figured this movie would have used the plane landing in the river in New York City as its inspiration, but the writer (John Gatins) claims instead that he had written it years before.  He spent a flight next to a pilot who was deadheading and the guy kept telling him about all his troubles.  At first Gatins didn’t want to hear any of that, but afterwards he starting thinking of a story that showed pilots were people that had problems just like the rest of us.

Flight opens with Whip Whitaker (Washington) and Katerina Marquez (Nadine Velazquez) being woken up.  Both obviously partied hard with each other the night before.  Some bluenoses have ridiculously complained about the nudity when Marquez gets out of bed.  First, the film is rated R.  Second, how many people who pass out after having drunken sex put their clothes back on before passing out?  Third, once she comes back from the bathroom, she does start to dress.

Whip is very hungover and snorts a line of coke to actually get himself going.  He’s got a plane to fly in a couple of hours, after all, and he needs to be alert.  When he gets to the plane we find that Marquez is one of the flight attendants.  The co-pilot is someone Whip has never worked with before.  They get off the ground in very bad conditions, and Whip then decides to raid the pantry for some more alcohol.  Once things are going smoothly he takes a nap.

Things don’t stay smooth, though.  All of a sudden the plane is in a hard, nose down dive.  The co-pilot is freaking out, but Whip is almost preternaturally calm.  He instructs both the co-pilot and a flight attendant he calls in on what he needs them to do.  He ends up inverting the plane (flying it upside down) to halt the dive.  He then manages to crash land in a field, losing only 6 of the more than 100 people on board.

Whip is injured in the crash.  He wakes up in the hospital a hero to everyone except the people involved with the airline.  They know an investigation is coming and everyone is going to blame everyone else.  Toxicology reports were done on all of the crew after the crash.  Naturally Whip’s would come back seriously bad.  Even though he saved most everyone on board (and the film even implies that it might have been precisely because of his condition that he was able to do it) Whip being intoxicated is very bad and the plane’s manufacturer will come after him to try to get themselves off the hook. 

The plane crash happens early on, and while it is intense, it doesn’t last all that long.  Most of the film is spent in the aftermath as Whip tries to deal with dodging the media, trying to change his lifestyle for the better, starting to connect with a woman he meets in the hospital (Kelly Reilly), and also just trying to deal with still being alive.  He is seriously disturbed by the fact that his drinking during the flight might land him in jail for the rest of his life for manslaughter, even though the plane was defective.

Supporting Washington in this film are Bruce Greenwood as his boss and friend, Don Cheadle as a lawyer brought in to try to protect Whip from charges, Melissa Leo as the person in charge of the investigation, and John Goodman as Whip’s drug supplier.  Goodman has a couple of humorous scenes in the film, accompanied by very fitting music.  Washington also gets some fitting music a couple of times.  By the way, I believe this is the first time Washington and Cheadle have worked together since they made the film Devil in a Blue Dress (1995).  If you haven’t seen it, I definitely recommend you check it out.  Cheadle is outstanding in it, and Washington was able to still play in a smaller kind of film at the time.


I mentioned at the top that the ending almost undoes the entire movie.  It just came across as an incredible cop out – moralistic for the sake of being moralistic, not realistic.  After spending an entire film showing the lengths Whip was willing to go to in order to cover up and lie about his substance abuse, he confesses in court during live testimony when all he has to do is answer one question “I don’t know” – something he had already done a minute before.

Yes, the film tries to say that he doesn’t want to blame a woman who died for something he did, but he doesn’t have to.  All he has to say is “I don’t know”.  He could still decide to get clean without sabotaging his own defense and going to jail.  It really feels like the ending is tacked on and that it doesn’t belong at all with the entire rest of the film.  Unfortunately, it’s not like you can skip this part, since it is the climax of the film.


Despite the problems with the ending it doesn’t destroy the entire film.  As I said, Flight is worth seeing for Washington’s performance.  He really does a good job as a man struggling, and often losing, to the demons that drive him.  As long as you don’t expect this to be an action film (aside from the plane crash scene) then you should be okay.  If it sounds interesting then I recommend you give it a try.

Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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  1. To me this film was a great disappointment. I guess I had no idea what I was going into, but it seemed to me the film had no idea what sort of story it wanted to tell. Was it a moralistic, take responsibility, don't do drugs film? Or a film about a hero being crucified in the name of placing blame? Were we supposed to root for Whip or not? Overall I found the film very depressing and there was definitely a sense of general discontent in the cinema. In this sense the ending just added another level misery to this very destructive film.
    Sorry Chip, for me this is the worst movie I have seen in a long time.

    1. I can certainly see how this film would not give someone what they were looking for. I actually thought it would be more of an action film than it was, which is why I specifically mentioned not to expect that in my review.

  2. Truly, this was one Denzel's best performances in a long time, especially after duds such as "Book of Eli". He shoulders the film throughout and makes one and all root for him. Worth an Oscar nomination for his performance.

    1. "Worth an Oscar nomination for his performance."

      Definitely, and this is being written by a guy who didn't think he did all that great a job when he won for Training Day.

  3. Nice review Chip. Denzel is great and really carries this movie when it runs into certain problems of the script. However, that's why he's Denzel and that's why he's there to save the day for all.

  4. "However, that's why he's Denzel and that's why he's there to save the day for all."

    That's a nice way to put it. Thanks.

  5. I get your problem with the ending, but it worked for me, mostly because I was so enchanted with Washington's ability here to make Whip feel like a real person. I think that he just had enough, enough of lying. I thought the writing, especially his monologue in prison in the end was very well written.

    As for the movie itself I thought it was messy, the whole subplot with Kelly Reilly really went nowhere as she had no part in Whip's change in the end of the movie. Also the whole ethical part of whether he should be condemned even if perhaps because he indulged his addiction he was able to save the people by landing the plane was swept under the rug.

    1. Eliminating the ethical question at the ending is one of my disappointments with it. I felt that was far more interesting that a simplistic wholesale conversion. I do agree that Washington does a great job in the role. Thanks.

  6. I agree with what Sati said above. I liked the ending too. I also enjoyed the film. (my review:


    1. I saw your comments on the film. It sounds like you and I had opposite reactions: I liked most of the movie up to the ending, while you didn't really like the movie until the ending. I always find it interesting when there are different takes on films like this. Thanks.