“Flight” has been sold to us as a story of an airplane pilot who makes a miraculous crash landing, only to test positive for alcohol after the incident and wind up being unfairly persecuted by the regulatory agencies investigating the crash. In truth, Denzel Washington’s character, Whip Whitaker, is a fully blown alcoholic and drug addict, and the film revolves around substance abuse and the struggle for recovery more so than it does the crash and its investigation.

Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is a pilot with a problem. A drinking and drugging problem. While on layover in Orlando, he and a stewardess have an all-nighter prior to a one hour return flight to Atlanta. Needing a little pick-me-up to make it through, Whitaker snorts a few rails before leaving the motel and grabs a couple of vodka bottles from the service cart to fix himself a screwdriver once onboard.

After a turbulent takeoff demonstrates Whitaker’s talent as a pilot, the plane experiences a sudden jolt just prior to descending to land and literally begins to fall out of the sky. With a panicky co-pilot, an unresponsive airplane and half drunk, Whitaker makes a landing that is nothing short of a miracle. Only six of the 100+ people aboard perish. The investigators will later attempt to simulate the landing, but 10 different pilots fail. All of whom lacked Whitaker’s skill, bravado, and buzz.

The crash makes national news. It’s also the focus, as all crashes are, of an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. While Whitaker insists the plane experienced mechanical failure, NTSB procedures include blood toxicology tests, and Whitaker’s glow in the dark. Regardless of whether or not his intoxication caused the crash, flying while drunk is a felony, and people died during the crash. The would leave Whitaker open to manslaughter charges, not to mention lawsuits for criminal negligence.

So while his pilot union rep (Bruce Greenwood) and his union provided attorney (Don Cheadle) try to save his ass from jail, Whitaker has to pull his shit together and stop drinking. Which actually quickly becomes the focus of the movie. While recovering from the crash in the hospital, Whitaker meets a heroin addict coming off of an overdose (Kelly Reilly) and a tentative romantic relationship ensues. Tentative due to the fact that they’re both taking steps towards sobriety, and their own individual issues threaten to get in each others way.

“Flight” is director Robert Zemeckis’ return to live action since 2000’s “Cast Away”. And for the most part, he does a fine job. The crash sequence is extremely intense, and while there aren’t any memorable performances per se, he gets his money’s worth out of the cast. To Zemeckis’ credit, he also does a great job injecting some flash here and there… for example, seeing Denzel get tweaked and then roll out of his motel room in full Pilot uniform to Joe Cocker’s “Feelin’ Alright” was brilliant. And John Goodman’s drug doctor “emergency visit” was laugh out loud funny, too, although… I may have been laughing inappropriately, judging by the rest of the theatre.

The issue with the film is that it’s primarily a recovery movie. Recovery movies typically feature unlikable characters in the lead… no one rides in to sobriety on a white horse, rock bottom is called rock bottom because it sucks. People at that point in their lives aren’t the most admirable bunch, and Washington’s Whitaker is no exception. It won’t take audiences long before they begin to question whether or not they should be rooting for this guy – frankly they may not even make it out of the first scene.  That’s par for the course in these sort of movies. What isn’t necessarily par for the course are some of the maddeningly unreliable decisions the character makes. To a degree, that also comes with the territory… you can’t exactly rely on a drunk, and certainly it adds an element of unpredictability to the film. There were moments I was CERTAIN what would happen, and the movie chooses to eschew the stereotypical path. There’s a part of me that wants to commend that, but the truth is the results were extremely frustrating for me, especially the ending. Which I won’t spoil. But I will say that I know more than my share of people with these sort of issues, and there isn’t a one of them who would fly in the face of self-preservation like that. It’s just not the way they roll.

Still, “Flight” is a decent drama featuring one of Hollywood’s biggest stars in the type of role you won’t see him in often: a drunken druggie. That alone makes it worth checking out.



39 thoughts on “Flight

  1. Great review here Fogs. and I’m glad you liked it. I understand your points, especially with the ending, but I saw it as the better way to end it. Especially since it eschews the stereotypical path as you so eloquently put it. (Nice word choice there, man!) this film had a great sense of realism to it and will undoubtedly make people think twice about the crew of the plane that they step onto next.

    I was more impressed with this than you were, but we both liked it. Good to see Denzel do something like this.

    • Oh, I can agree with that, it was definitely nice to see Denzel take a break from being a detective or a bad guy. LOL. Excellent choice of roles, and he did it well, for the most part.

      I dont want to get into it too bad due to spoiler, but the entire last 1/4 of the film, no matter which way he “turned” I was like, noooooo cmon! 😀

      I saw your review is up, I’ll stop by to check it out soon!

  2. I like your take on this. Redemption in film can take many roads and it can sour a story as well as uplift it. I was curious about this and it sounds like it had some quality to it but if I want a high quality upbeat transformational story this may not meet that objective. Excellent review, I really got a sense of the ambiance of the film.

    • Uhmmmm. Its pretty high quality. I mean, its not going to make my top ten or anything, but it was ok. Definitely not upbeat… though it has its moments. I just wish I could go into the specifics of the things that upset me, but one of the values of this one is that it definitely does things you dont expect. Frankly, that wound up upsetting me more often than not, but at least you can say that it didnt succumb to being to stereotypical and predictable.

  3. Have to agree with you that Flight doesn’t live-up to it’s billing. Had such mixed emotions about Denzel’s character. The plane segment was super, but the drug/alcohol segment was really painful to watch. Good review with a fair grade.

    • Grazie, grazie.

      I think right away I was squirming at the choice for them to focus on the drinking/drug abuse angle. From the minute the heroin addict girl came on I was like, Ugch, what is this now?

      At the end of the day, it still wound up a fun, decent watch, but I have to think it’d turned out better if they had found a way to focus more on the investigation. 😦

  4. Why am I so excited for this? I think it’s the badass trailer…I mean, that shot of the plane with no tail going over the church…dude, I’m off to buy tickets right this second.

    But it sounds like the trailer paints it as an action movie, while the real thing is more of a drama, so thanks for the heads up on that! Dramas are my favorite, but I like to know what I’m going into 🙂

    • Oh, definitely NOT an action movie, although the entire plane flight that the movie focuses around and the trailers showcase IS a pretty sick action sequence. Good stuff!

      I agree, I think its a great trailer, they did a great job. The music is fantastic too. Now. Is it a little bit of a bait and switch? Yes. But its not the world’s worst ever in history… so…

      You’ll enjoy it, I bet, but I dont think it’ll win any awards this year or anything, lets put it that way. 😦

  5. Hi, Fogs and company:

    Nicely done!

    Conflicted is something that Mr. Washington does quite well, but you have to look hard and long and early to find. Like back to his Dr. Philip Chandler, back in ‘St. Elsewhere’ and a bit in ‘Malcolm X’, to find and savor.

    Having turned multiple screwdrivers and wrenches on several multi-engined ‘Heavies’ for the Air Force for thirty plus years. I’m going to reserve judgement on the ability to roll and sustain flight in a rear engined airliner. But if anyone can pull it off, Zemeckis can.

    I’ve been waiting awhile for a prime, beefy role to pull Mr. Washington out of his recent doldrums. ‘Flight’ looks like it could be that ticket!

    • Lol!! Jack, I imagine that someone with knowledge of such things might be driven crazy by some of the crash details in this movie, kind of like I was with some of the recovery stuff.

      At the end of the day, I guess you (we) just have to remember its just a movie. 😀

      It is one of Denzel’s best opportunities to show off his chops that we’ve gotten in awhile. I don’t think it’ll go down as one of his best characters, but that’s more on the script than him.

  6. Awesome review! I heard amazing things about Washington’s performance here and I really like Kelly Reilly, so I’m definetly going to see this one.

  7. Pingback: Flight could have been a truly great film, if only… « nediunedited

  8. I liked it a little less than you. (Just posted my review) Although, there are strong performances (especially loved Kelly Reilly) and an interesting premise, it never quite finds the “story” it wants to tell.

    It is a shame because the first hour is really good. Tense and thought-provoking. I would have loved to see them delve deeper into the dichotomy of hero and villain. But, the last 1.5 hours just felt long and uneven–with some emotional scenes that were never earned–leaving me unattached and unmoved.

    It is nice to see Denzel “acting” again 😀 and I welcome Mr. Zemeckis back to the real world…I like him.


    • Later 😉

      You’re really right about the second half feeling uneven. I didnt know how to feel about the lead, and I definitely was pulling my hair out over his decisions. By the end, I wasnt that emotionally involved either, and that’s a problem.

      I still enjoyed it though. It was mildly recommendable. If for no other reason than to seeing Denzel “act” again, like you say.

  9. Sounds like an interesting film; sorry the story tacts back and forth so much prior to recovery focus. Denzel’s still the man. I guess it’s time for what’s your favorite recovery film….mine include Permanent Midnight, Clean and Sober, and maybe Passion Fish. This a weighty topic that can provide entertainment value when the story rings true. I guess it does here even if atypical in manner. Nice post.

    Craig: “You know what the addict’s least favorite word is? No. Ask me if you can use my phone Daryl.” – Craig (MFreeman),Clean and Sober(1988)

    • LOL. Big fan of Clean and Sober. Watched that and Leaving Las Vegas on my first friday night sober. 😀 Not a recommended double feature for anyone in that situation! LOL

      I’d do “Whats your favorite recovery film” I dont know that the pool of candidates is large enough 😉

      This, meanwhile, was ok. Entertaining at the end of the day, but not without its frustrations along the way.

      • Kudoz on a gruelling twosome of films on your “first friday”; that sounds like one tough eve. You’re right; as a category, way to small; this was just a nod to your other fine “tossing it out there”s.


        cheers 😉

      • I knoooooowwwww!! LOL I’m watching Football right now and thy keep running the commercials, I’m freaking out!!! 😀

        Bond: Do you expect me to talk?

        Auric Goldfinger: No Mr. Bond, I expect you TO OPEN YOUR NEW FREAKING MOVIE THIS FREAKING WEEEEEEEEK!!!! 😀

  10. Pingback: Flight Review: FUI = Flying Under the Influence | Rorschach Reviews

  11. Definitely a bit torn about this one, it boils down to the kind of addiction movie we’ve seen many times before but it’s done so well that I didn’t care about that as much. Washington will definitely be a contender for best actor this year, though Daniel Day Lewis just might snatch it from him with “Lincoln”. Good review 🙂

    • I dont know… I’ve heard a bunch of people saying that for Denzel, but I think its wishful thinking more than anything. We’ll have to see how the year plays out. Right now? I’m not seeing it.

      I DID see Lincoln already though and DDL was freaking crazy. That performance was so incredible… it was astonishing. Now HE’S a mortal lock for a nom. Honest, if he doesn’t get nominated, something is desperately, desparately wrong with the system. LOL

      Thanks for the linkage btw, I havent had time to circle around to other reviews yet, but I will!! 😀

  12. Nice review buddy boy. I liked this flick mainly for Denzel’s performance, but will admit that the story starts to get a bit predictable and obvious by the end. Didn’t love it nor get as engaged as I would have liked, but still felt a great deal of connection and suspense for this guy, Whip Whitaker. Really strange name, but still shows how cool Denzel truly is.

    • That is a strange name, isn’t it? I didnt think it was that predicatable. There was one moment where I was sure they were doing one thing and they did the exact opposite…. and then, the end was kind of predictable, but the whole time I was watching thinking, “He’s not gonna… is he?” like, I knew what they were setting up and I didnt want him to do it. So…

      Hey at least Denzel was fun to watch, as always.

  13. As I was writing this up on my site, it dawned on me that it is really a remake of “Cast Away” with the addiction issue as the island that has to be escaped from. Then I started casting other parts, Cheadle as the coconuts, Greenwood as fire, and Kelly Reilly as “Wilson”. The choice at the end of the movie is the act of faith of getting on that crappy raft and sailing into oblivion. What do you think? (Maybe I’m still just looking for an A in Ms. Carden’s 10th grade English class)

    • By the way, we seem to have had the same weekend, Bond blogging followed by Iron Fists, Flight and Wreck it Ralph. In your universe are you the Good Spock or the evil Spock?

    • Yeah, I was frustrated too, as I’m sure you picked up on from the review.

      Unfortunately, I turned on him at one point. I was no longer sure I wanted to root for him. Thats some true to life stuff, a lot of time drunks’ll burn out their friends and family… but still, as an audience member you want to be behind the hero main character. LOL. 🙂

      He got me back before the credits rolled, but still, frustrating at times!

      • Very well said, Fogs! I absolutely hate when the main character loses me. He didn’t completely lose me, but during the latter half of the film when that thing went bump in the night (I’m trying to be as vague as I possibly can lol), I totally had my doubts if I wanted to give up on the guy or not. Yes, very true. I think it ended on a very strong and powerful note.

      • Haha, it did indeed, I just lit up when he showed up! He played such a small role, but such a great one. I was just in hysterics. It was definitely a funnier role for him than in Argo, but even that one was funny. He just tickles my funny bone.

  14. Great review here man. I completely understand why the ending didn’t fully click for you, but damn, for me, it hit in all the best ways. I won’t dare ruin it either but I sincerely believe that addicts have two choices: tell the truth, or die. Flight is one of my favorite flicks of the year so far for a number of reasons, but, yeah, I can see how it’d be off putting.

  15. Nice review!

    I thought this was a solid drama, but was a little frustrated with it in hindsight too, but I think in a way that you root for an addict to make smart choices, only to be frustrated when they do the most self-destructive thing possible (hence, being an addict).

    Trying not to spoil anything here, but my only thought about the ending is that, possibly, throwing someone under the bus who could never defend themself was his “rock bottom”.

    That being said, if I took away anything else from this movie, it’s the fact that I never want to fly again. That crash sequence was a little too intense for me haha.

    • Ha! Or the fact that the pilot was high as a kite, and passed out? LOL Yeah, doesnt make flying appealing! LOL 😀

      You’re right about the character’s ping pong action being true to… the nature of addiction, but I dont know if it makes the movie easier. You know?

      And as to the end, again without spoilers, I think that 99.999999% of people would have taken the “easy out” offered to them and then gotten clean later. LOL 😀

  16. Hahaha, although to be honest, maybe I hope my next pilot as Denzel’s swagger. He landed that plane like a stud.

    I getcha though it’s kind of like… oh maybe he’s better, oh maybe not, again and again. Not an easy thing to watch.

    And totally agree with you. Most would absolutely take the easy way out, but I guess that’s not Hollywood friendly or can’t really fit neatly within a standard movie timeframe.

    Oh well, still a good flick overall.

  17. Great review Fogs. I’m looking forward to this one. It’s good to have Zemeckis back. “… no one rides in to sobriety on a white horse, rock bottom is called rock bottom because it sucks. People at that point in their lives aren’t the most admirable bunch…” – loved this line man. It had me chuckling. 😉 LOL.

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