After a horrific malfunction threatens everyone aboard his plane, pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) makes a drastic, unorthodox decision that, while not preventing a crash, still saves the lives of the majority of the passengers and crew. Initially hailed as a hero, things begin to change both in the press and amongst those investigating the incident when it is revealed the Captain is a raging alcoholic, leading to suspicion he might have some way been at fault.
Here’s what I wrote about this one in my original theatrical review:
“Seasoned commercial airline pilot Captain Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) wasn’t worried about his return flight to Atlanta. Sure he was a little wasted, drugs and alcohol still in his system, and hiding that from his rookie copilot Ken Evans (Brian Geraghty) and veteran flight attendant Margaret Thomason (Tamara Tunie) isn’t easy. But when the veteran pilot comes up with a novel way to get the plane through some especially rough weather easing both the tensions of the passengers as well as the worries of his coworkers all is fine, the remainder of their journey as routine as they come.
Not so. Just before they’re scheduled to land a catastrophic failure puts the plane into jeopardy. Working off of instinct, Whitaker attempts a daring maneuver to regain control of the aircraft keeping them from a potentially catastrophic event in the middle of residential Atlanta. The plane does crash, but it does so relatively under control, and due to the pilot’s actions the loss of life amongst the 102 souls aboard is miraculously miniscule.
From there Oscar-winning auteur Robert Zemeckis’ (Back to the Future) return to live action filmmaking Flight goes in a rather surprising direction. This movie isn’t some sort of conspiracy thriller, isn’t about corporate malfeasance or anything even remotely sinister. It is, instead, something of a modern day variation on Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend, and instead of an acclaimed writer in the throes of addiction here we have a seemingly heroic pilot whose battle with alcohol and drugs leads him to wonder if his quick-thinking and daring-do would have even been necessary had he began the day sober.
For anyone who has known or worked with those dealing with alcoholism and/or chemical addiction John Gatins’ (Real Steel) hard-hitting script rings of a brutally realized truth impossible to ignore. The journey Whitaker takes, as extreme as the situations circling around it might be, is as honest and as unflinching as they come, showing the highs and lows of alcohol abuse with striking authenticity. How the pilot deals with his situation, the way he chooses to tackle it, is both frustrating and heartbreaking, leading to the type of forcefully tearful denouement fitting of the character’s situation as well as his travails.
There are some small nitpicks that can be made. I get why actress Kelly Reilly’s character, a fellow addict named Nicole coming to her own fork in the moral road, is here but I’m not absolutely sure she’s a necessity. There are times it feels like the only reason she exists is to literalize and verbalize many of Whitaker’s thoughts and actions for the audience, making concrete what should probably remain a little bit ephemeral and doesn’t require explanation. She’s good in the role, a fact I can’t ignore, I just don’t think her presence was required, making her something of a frustrating enigma I loathed and loved in almost equal measure.
Then there is John Goodman. He appears three times in the movie, showing up as Whitaker’s best friend and confidant Harlan Mays. The guy is a ball of energy, an enthusiastic dynamo who adds a few laughs and a heck of a lot of electricity. But it also feels like he’s in a completely different motion picture than everyone else, throwing me out of the story in a way that was entirely too noticeable. He’s an overly theatrical creation of Gatins’ imagination who never comes across as genuine or natural, which is admittedly something of a shame considering just about everything else in the story reeks of tragic emotional authenticity.
Yet Flight connects, sometimes magnificently, in large part due to Washington’s enthralling and multifaceted performance as a man on the edge of sanity dealing with an addictive personality pushing at every fiber of his being leading him to a cliff of personal devastation. There is nothing showy or inauthentic about what the actor does, the veteran two-time Academy Award-winner mining stunning interior territories. He doesn’t hold back, doesn’t give in, doesn’t try to hide the traits that make Whitaker a potential monster but also helped him be a true hero in the time of greatest need. Washington is magnificent, plain and simple, and as of right now this is easily one of the greatest performances I’ve seen from an actor in all of 2012.
Zemeckis balances all of the elements present in the film with the same confidant ease that were inherent in his past successes including Cast Away, Contact, Romancing the Stone and Used Cars. He may have toyed around with motion capture for a decade with the likes of The Polar Express and Beowulf but that doesn’t mean he lost a step where it comes to dealing with actors or delivering indelible real life images onto the screen. The director makes a triumphant return to live action, reminding us all that his Oscar for Forest Gump, love it or hate it, was hardly a fluke, and it’s easy to imagine another Best Director nomination might potentially be in his future.
Flight isn’t easy. It isn’t a comfy, relaxed thing. It doesn’t over up easy answers or short, quick melodramatic platitudes most audience members would find comforting. The movie instead asks us to look inside ourselves in a way that is difficult yet revealing, showcasing truths that are eye-opening and poignant. Here, the crash-landing Captain Whitaker is part of is literal but it is also figurative, understanding that sometimes you have to hit rock-bottom if you’re ever going to do what it takes soar.”
Flight, somewhat surprisingly in some ways, plays even better the second time around than it did the first. Washington’s performance is even more expressive, so deeply felt and nuanced I’m beyond blown away by it (to say I feel like he deserves the Oscar over the other Best Actor nominees – including Daniel Day-Lewis and Joaquin Phoenix – is a definite understatement).
But it is the movie itself which truly impressed me during this return viewing. Zemeckis and Gatins dive into the drama all guns blazing, completely unafraid to take their main character to the utter depths of his self-imposed depravity and doing it in a way that feels utterly real. As a story about alcoholism and mental health it’s beyond strong, revealing truths that caught me off guard speaking with a wrenching frankness that’s intimately inspiring.
Flight is presented on a dual-layer 50GB Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video with a 2.40:1/1080p transfer.
This Blu-ray features an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack along with French, Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 track and features optional English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish subtitles.
Extras here include:
· Origins of Flight (10:29) – Solid featurette with director Robert Zemeckis, writer John Gatins, actors Bruce Greenwood and Denzel Washington, and producer Steve Starkey talking about what them led to deciding to come aboard the productions the elements that inspired it.
· The Making of Flight (11:31) – Much of same group is back plus numerous other members of the cast and crew to talk about how the film itself ultimately came together. Good, but also much too brief feeling like it’s covering the bare minimum.
· Anatomy of a Plane Crash (7:46) – Great little featurette on both what real life events inspired the gut-wrenching plane crash as well as the technical virtuosity required by all involved to bring it too life.
· Q&A Highlights (14:18) – John Horn of The Los Angeles Times sits down with members of the cast and crew to discuss the film. Washington is not included (he was apparently ill at the time of the screening and subsequent discussion).
It’s a decent if not nearly as thorough as I might have liked collection of extras, but overall they’re just informative and interesting enough to get the job done.
DVD and UltraViolet copies of the film are also included.
Flight might not be exactly what one might suspect it would be going in, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive an effort. A modern day The Lost Weekend, the film is anchored by a superb performance by star Denzel Washington and a solid script by John Gatins. As for Paramount’s Blu-ray release, it’s close to technical perfection, the whole thing achieving liftoff with little to no difficulty whatsoever.