ABOUT: Flight is a 2012 American drama film directed and co-produced by Robert Zemeckis starring Denzel Washington, with Don Cheadle, Melissa Leo, Bruce Greenwood, Kelly Reilly, and John Goodman. Flight is Zemeckis’ first live-action film since Cast Away and What Lies Beneath, which were both released in 2000. Flight is currently nominated for two Academy Awards at the 85th Academy Awards: Best Actor (for Denzel Washington) and Best Original Screenplay (for John Gatins).
Story: An airline pilot who saves lives by skillfully crash-landing a malfunctioning passenger jet in the midst of a mechanical catastrophe can be considered a hero. The same pilot, on the same flight, operating with booze and coke in his system must be considered a criminal.
Denzel Washington plays a very complex character in this film. One might want straightforward, or black and white definitions of right and wrong but they won’t find it here. That is what makes this character and film interesting. Washington plays pilot William “Whip” Whitaker who is high on drugs and alcohol but ultimately saves a doomed plane from crashing. How we negotiate his addiction with his deeds makes the audience active, not passive. The spectator becomes a part of the film in this way.
I like that the plane flaws are a metaphor for Whitaker’s flaws. His life is in a nose-dive. Can he save himself like he did the plane?
We see that Whitaker has no control over his drinking and that he has a drug dealer (Goodman) that brings him cocaine to ‘straighten’ out. He develops a relationship with a recovering addict who had overdosed on heroine and who he meets in the hospital after the plane incident. I think that it is very interesting to see whom he lets into his life versus whom he rejects. He rejects his ex-wife, son, and nice pilot.
Before his trial, he admits that he is used to lying. Pretending that he is sober is a constant way of life for him. You don’t need a mask and cape to hide. Hiding in plane sight is very interesting on this site in particular, because so many films that we see involve a doubling effect. The pilot’s uniform becomes a disguise.
What is a potential minefield here, would the drunk/high pilot have made the same choices straight?
“Usually what people are trying to do is maintain themselves,” Washington has said. “Where actors get into problems is that they act drunk. In fact, you’re trying to keep it in. Especially a pilot. This guy is basically lying most of his life. He’s used to it.”
Whitaker was so put-together on the flight. His co-pilot later says that he smelled booze on his breath but looking at him would be deceiving. Now that’s good acting combined with good faith – trusting that if you play against ‘type’ it will work out.
Director Robert Zemeckis says that Washington “goes deep” in the role. “He has this gravitas. I couldn’t imagine anyone else but [Washington] for that part. And he just nailed it beyond my expectations.”
Whitaker is charming. He drinks, does cocaine and he sleeps around but he’s charming. The allure of this character is the layers and dimensions here. Washington not only brings a gravitas to the character but he brings ‘likeability’ to a compromised person.
Expectations and judgments are tossed in the air and we as viewers are challenged to look beyond the obvious. The film is a study of addiction but our response to a pilot-addict says a hell of a lot as well, you know?
[Ending alert: I give nothing away, as usual, but…] The film has a safe, conventional ending. That is, in my opinion, a flaw. If the ending made the viewer bewildered, unsure, confused or just plain upset – it might have been better.
I think that the film and direction are straightforward. Everything is very good like the editing, sound and cinematography but the acting and the story really stand out. Flight is nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay.
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