In Flight, Denzel Washington plays Whip, a pilot leading a life of addiction. His routine seems to be booze and loose women at night, followed by cocaine like a rejuvenating chaser before he begins flying all day. Somehow this works for him, and probably has for years, until a mechanical failure mid-flight forces him to make a daring crash landing. He is regarded as a hero for his quick thinking, but as the investigation of the crash digs deeper, his sobriety comes into question.
A majority of the film focuses on Whip’s denial and the way he and the airline’s team of lawyers plan to save his public reputation. There is a lot of damage control by many people. Right away, Whip retreats to his remote family home and dumps all the drugs and alcohol. The lawyers get Whip’s blood sample, with a damning blood alcohol content of .2 and traces of cocaine, stricken from the record due to trivial technicalities. And when things really go south at the crucial moment, Harling Mays (John Goodman) is called in to give Whip his dose of cocaine to fly above his hangover. It’s a lot of work to keep Whip looking like a hero.
The crash scene is an early pivotal point in the film that comes with nail biting intensity. In a sudden moment, what was a normal flight becomes a nightmare when the plane inexplicably goes into a nosedive. This wakes Whip out of his drunken nap (he made himself a screwdriver earlier in the flight), to find that his copilot, Ken Evans (Brian Geraghty) has no control. With quick thinking, he orders everyone to strap in and he turns the plane upside down, to glide towards an open field and lose speed. As the ground grows nearer, and one heroic stewardess is helplessly hurled around the cabin, he flips the plane back upright just before taking out the steeple of a church and crashing into the field behind it. This scene, especially just after the crash, is not for the faint of heart.
One thing I really enjoyed about Flight was the soundtrack. It boasts classic hits like Gimmie Shelter by The Rolling Stones and Feelin’ Alright by Traffic. Many of the songs seem to help set a tone for Whip’s intoxicated state. Perhaps it is how Whip has come to imagine himself after all the liquor and cocaine and he is heading into the air. He does a good job of pulling off this persona under his authoritative uniform and dark sunglasses.
At last year’s Oscars, Flight was nominated for two awards, best original screenplay and Denzel Washington was nominated for lead actor. When it came to the best picture race, I believe Flight came up just short in a thick field. It’s a very smart and compelling film that focuses on a man and his journey through and away from his denial of addiction. It could be a slight disappointment for those who are more concerned with the technical reasons for the plane crash than the character who in all the wrong ways, became a hero.
“Nobody could’ve landed that plane like I did.”