Seasoned airline pilot Capt. Whip Whitaker (Denzel Wahsington), miraculously crash lands his plane after a mid-air catastrophe, saving nearly every soul on board. After the crash, Whip is hailed as a hero, but as more information comes to light, there are more and more questions as to who or what was really at fault and what really happened on that plane?
Review by Louise Keller:
Just like the plane that is inverted prior to crash landing in a bid to minimise its uncontrolled descent, Flight immediately overturns our preconceptions of where the film is heading. What starts as a potential disaster movie, turns into a potent drama and character study of a man trapped by his own lies. John Gatin's gripping screenplay offers an ideal platform for Denzel Washington as the charismatic pilot whose audacious, instinctive reactions in a crisis save lives on board a mechanically unsound plane. Washington is superb, charming us one minute, shocking us in the very next. Director Robert Zemeckis navigates this riveting story seamlessly through all its unexpected turns, from the obvious to the understated.
You may not remember exactly what Washington (as Whip Whitaker) is saying on his mobile phone in the film's opening scene, when woken in his Orlando hotel room, but you will remember exactly what he is looking at. His eyes (and ours) take in the alluring naked form of Nadine Velazquez as Katerina Marquez, who slips out of bed before slipping into a skimpy G-string. A snort of cocaine later, Whip looks a million dollars in his pilot's uniform, ready for his 9am flight, irrespective of no sleep. His co-pilot, the conservative, Jesus-loving Ken Evans (Brian Geraghty) is clearly anxious by Whip's outlandish manner, as he sucks in oxygen, requests strong, sweet black coffee and aspirin, just as they are about to take off in heavy rain. Vodka slurped in orange juice follows. The turbulent start of the flight (with Whip's dramatic and unconventional approach to avoiding the worst of the weather) is just the start, with nightmare conditions to come as the plane's hydraulics are lost. This is when Whip's cool-under-pressure responses are highlighted. He is a super-hero, intoxicated by the perilous conditions.
From hero to suspect of criminal negligence, the descent of Whip's world is immediate. The scene in the hospital stairwell, in which he meets Kelly Reilly's heroin-addict Nicole sticks in our mind; they are two lost souls struggling to stay afloat and instinctively drawn to each other. Reilly is magnetic in the role as the sometimes masseuse who is trying to piece her life together again. We also get a glimpse of the fall-out between Whip and his family - his ex-wife and son.
Don Cheadle's attorney is a nice surprise in that he is far from the expected, dry legal presence, while John Goodman is a scene stealer as Whip's wild-card larger-than-life buddy, who carries the arsenal needed to keep Whip in shape. And Bruce Greenwood is solid as the pilots' union representative Charlie, who has a history with Whip.
We fly on Whip's coattails as he struggles with his demons - the scene in which he accompanies Nicole to an AA meeting shows his discomfort when confronted by the truth, and is an important part of the journey to come.
The real tension builds in anticipation of the all-important hearing, when Whip's fate will be sealed. Sobriety has never been so crucial. Safely tucked away in a hotel with a bar-fridge filled with soft drink and a security guard nearby, it seems that nothing can go wrong. Or can it? The uncertainty of what is about to happen is one of the film's strong points and Zemeckis handles the anticipation marvellously. A tense and mesmerizing film that grapples with human frailties, Flight is a film with something to say. It deals with truth, honesty and honour - leaving us well satisfied from the trip.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Although it's simple as a story, it's morally complicated, because John Gatins has based his screenplay on real life observations. While this is not based on a single true story, it draws on many true stories he has found in his research and the authentic profile he has devised for Whip Whittaker (Denzel Washington) rings true. The film is more an edgy character study (with thriller elements) than a disaster movie or an air crash investigation procedural.
Director Robert Zemeckis teases out all the moral dilemmas inherent in the story, and makes great use of his outstanding cast. Those dilemmas flow from the juxtaposing of a uniquely skilled airline pilot who can fly a plane through a disaster better than anyone else, even when he's blotto. The filmmakers play with our sensibilities, gluing us to Whit Whitaker despite his one major flaw. Even though the plane crash doesn't appear to be his fault, his self denial about his alcoholism is integral to his career.
I don't want to canvass all the details here, because much of the film's power comes from the subtle, gradual unravelling, rather than the denoument on its own.
As for performances, Washington makes Whip a fully formed character, no more or less decent and flawed than you or me, even though avoiding the truth of his life sets him apart. But how much apart?
Kelly Reilly is a standout as Nicole, her character's journey of redemption a fully satisfying one. Her relationship to Whip is one of the film's highlights, but there are others, all decorated with detail. We meet Nadine Velazquez naked as she climbs out of bed at the start of the film and although her on screen time is minimal, her role is enormous. Bruce Greenwood is solid as the pilots union rep and John Goodman is floridly wonderful as Whip's trusted friend and substance supplier, sometimes as emergency backup.
Tamara Tunie is heartbreaking as Margaret the senior cabin crew who knows all about Whip, and Melissa Leo is strikingly good as the Federal commissioner investigating the tragedy; she arrives late in the film but makes an exceptional impact.
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CAST: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, Brian Geraghty, John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood, Melissa Leo, Nadine Velazquez, Carter Cabassa, Tamara Tunie
PRODUCER: Robert Zemeckis, Steve Starkey, Jack Rapke, Walter F. Parkes, Laurie MacDonald
DIRECTOR: Robert Zemeckis
SCRIPT: John Gatins
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Don Burgess
EDITOR: Jeremiah O'Driscoll
MUSIC: Alan Silvestri
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Nelson Coates
RUNNING TIME: 138 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 31, 2013