“Flight” starring Denzel Washington is one of the most complicated films you’re apt to see in 2012. And when I say complicated, I don’t mean “Inception” complicated. I mean it may leave you feeling conflicted.
As hard as it will be for me, I promise this is a spoiler-free review.
The story centers around the events of one fateful flight to Atlanta during which a commercial airline pilot, Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington), successfully crash lands a plane. As he wakes in the hospital, Whip is met by representatives of the National Transportation Safety Board, his doctor and union representative. Of the 102 passengers and five crew members, 96 people survived, thanks to the unorthodox and unbelievable maneuvers of the flight’s captain, Whitaker. Despite this, the protocol is that every incident, every crash is investigated. In the days that follow, Whitaker’s life begins to unravel in a magnificent tangle of grief and denial until finally, he is brought before the NTSB at a formal hearing to discuss the events of that fateful flight. With nowhere left to hide and no one else to blame, he realizes he can no longer run from the truth.
The journey that director Robert Zemeckis takes us on is tense, uncomfortable, at times laughable but always engaging. The sequence in which Washington’s character successfully, calmly crash lands a commercial airplane is so inescapably intense, so real the fear is completely palpable. It’s as close as you probably want to ever get to actually being in an airplane crash. This scene alone, upon which the rest of the film is carefully constructed, is reason enough to see the film in the theater. It will, undoubtedly, be diminished when it is translated to DVD and reduced to a smaller screen and a smaller forum. Seeing it in the darkened theater, with other people, puts you in that airplane as it starts its uncontrollable nose dive towards the Earth. The effect is terrifying.
There are moments when you may find yourself cringing, too. Immoral acts abound. Unethical acts abound. In fact, there are plenty of references to “acts of God” and things being “beyond your control” as well. I suppose, however, as is the case with films and stories which deal with devastating events wherein people lose their lives, I think Zemeckis is right to “go there”. To not would somehow seem false for some people, even if I’m not among them. Ultimately, I think the film speaks to the importance of personal responsibility.
The true power of “Flight” lies in the journey of Whip Whitaker from a high-flying plateau (excuse the pun) to the kind of rock bottom most of us will never know (thankfully). It is unflinching and unapologetic. At times very dark. Performances by Denzel Washington and John Goodman are absolutely fantastic, lending moments of true emotion and humor to a film that ranges the gamut from comedy and horror to recovery and forgiveness.
Now nominated for Academy Awards for Actor in a Leading Role (Denzel Washington), and Writing/Original Screenplay (John Gatins):
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Official site: Flight online