Flight

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

On October 14, 2011, Airline captain/ recreational drug user Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) awakens in his Orlando hotel room with flight attendant Katerina Márquez (Nadine Velazquez) after a night of sex, alcohol, and very little sleep. After using cocaine to wake up, he boards SouthJet flight 227 to Atlanta. After Whip threads the plane through severe turbulence at takeoff, copilot Ken Evans (Brian Geraghty) flies the airplane while Whip discreetly mixes vodka in his orange juice and takes a nap. Whip is jolted awake just before their final descent and the aircraft goes into a steep dive as a result of an apparent catastrophic failure of all pitch control. Whip rolls the plane upside down to bring it out of the dive and maneuvers the plane right-side up just before crash-landing in a field. He loses consciousness shortly after impact.

Whip awakens in an Atlanta hospital with minor injuries. He is greeted by his old friend Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood), who represents the airline’s pilots union. He tells Whip his heroism saved 96 of 102 people on board. A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) official informs him Katerina was among those killed, and that Evans has been put into a coma.

Sneaking a cigarette in the stairwell, Whip meets Nicole (Kelly Reilly), who is recovering from an overdose, and promises to visit her when they leave the hospital. In the morning, his friend and drug dealer, Harling Mays (John Goodman), picks him up and sneaks him away from the hospital. Whip drives to his late father’s farm, hoping to avoid the media. When he meets Charlie and attorney Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle), they explain that the NTSB performed a hospital toxicology screen, while he was unconscious, showing that Whip was intoxicated. The test had the potential to send Whip to prison on alcohol, drug and manslaughter charges. Lang promises to get the toxicology report voided on technical grounds, but Whip angrily leaves and seeks Nicole. He finds her bailing on her lease, offers to pay for it, and lets her stay at the farm.

Nicole and Whip begin a romantic relationship, but Nicole is trying to stay sober while Whip keeps drinking, and she soon leaves. The media soon discovers his farmhouse, so he drives, while intoxicated, to visit his ex-wife (Garcelle Beauvais) and teenage son (Justin Martin). They call the police after Whip makes a drunken scene at the house and he finally leaves, only to discover the media waiting outside for him. He begs to stay with Charlie, vowing not to drink before the upcoming NTSB hearing.

The night before the hearing, Charlie and Hugh check Whip into a guarded hotel room to ensure he does not get intoxicated. His mini-bar has only nonalcoholic beverages, but Whip notices an open door to the adjoining room and finds a mini-bar full of alcohol. Charlie and Hugh find him the next morning, passed out drunk. They call Harling, who brings him cocaine to perk him up for the hearing.

At the hearing, Ellen Block (Melissa Leo), the lead NTSB investigator, reveals the cause of the plane’s first malfunction to be a damaged elevator assembly jackscrew. She commends Whip on his valor. Just as it appears Whip will escape blame, Block notes that there were two empty alcohol containers found in the trash on the plane; Whip knows these were his. Block points out that only the flight crew had access to the alcohol, and since only Katerina’s toxicology screen showed alcohol, Block asks Whitaker whether he thinks Katerina may have been drinking on the job. Refusing to taint Katerina’s good name, Whip admits not only that he was flying intoxicated but also that he is intoxicated at the hearing.

Thirteen months later, an imprisoned Whip, serving a minimum five-year sentence, tells a support group of fellow inmates that he is glad to be sober and does not regret doing the right thing, because he finally feels “free”. He is shown to have pictures of Nicole and other family and friends on the wall of the cell, along with greeting cards congratulating him on being sober for a year. In the final scene, Whip’s son visits him to interview Whip for a college application essay on “the most fascinating person I’ve never met”.

REVIEW:

I’m constantly getting asked why it is that I won’t get on a plane. Contrary to popular belief, it is not because of the events or 9/11, but rather because of my intense fear of heights. Although, after watching Flight, I might be even more hesitant to set foot on a plane for fear the pilot may be drunk or high and not as capable!

What is this about?

After his amazing safe landing of a damaged passenger plane, an airline pilot is praised for the feat, but has private questions about what happened. Further, the government’s inquiry into the causes soon puts the new hero’s reputation at risk.

What did I like?

Wow factor. Say what you will about Denzel Washington’s character’s drinking and drug use, the fact remains that he pulled off flipping that plane over and saving the lives of all but a handful of people on board. Not many pilots would have been able to pull that off, as he mentions a couple of times through the film.

Side plot. Aside from the ongoing saga of what is going to happen with Washington’s flight investigation, there is some side plot involving a young woman who is down on her luck and a recovering addict. At frist, it doesn’t seem to make any rhyme or reason as to how it fit into the proceedings, but things take shape once they converge and meet out in the hospital stairway. It was a nice little side plot that normally I would throw away as unnecessary, but actually found myself caring for and wanting to see what happens to this young woman.

Levity. A film like this could so easily fall into the realm of the dark and serious, and at times it does. Then we get a dose of John Goodman’s character, who injects some humor here and there. I personally think we could have used a bit more of him, but what we got was a nice little taste of the funny at times when it was much needed.

What didn’t I like?

Aftermath. I don’t know about you, but I figure if someone manages to keep a plane from totally crashing and saves nearly everyone on it from suffering a fiery death, they should be revered as a hero. For the most part, Washington’s character was, but there was also that investigation hanging over his head

Flight. For a film that has flight in the title, there is very little flying to be seen here. After the crash, we never see the sky again. I wish either we would have gotten more sky miles. All this groundswell, for lack of a better term, didn’t work for me as well as it did for some people. Maybe it is the Air Force brat in me, but I was hoping to go up in the wild, blue yonder.

Family. The ex-wife was brought in, but I have to question why, as she and the son served no real purpose. Add on that they got a hot actress to play her, and it really made no sense. As far as the son goes, he was just one of those cocky teens that we see more and more these days, but he does get a bit of redemption in the final scenes. Were they needed in terms of the story, though? No, not really, but given the way things were going up to that point, I can see why they were there.

Flight is one of the films that, pardon the pun, flew under the radar. Some people have even gone so far as to say this was an Oscar snub. I’m not going to get into that debate, but with the great acting on display here, it isn’t very hard to see why it was so well-received. I highly recommend this to all who wish to take a break from the usual comic book, tween drama, and kiddie flicks that populate theaters and movie shelves these days.

4 1/4 out of 5 stars

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