Flight - An Emotional Ride with the Sterling Denzel Washington

                                Robert Zemeckis, the director of emotionally touching movies like "Forrest Gump", "Cast Away" haven't done any live-action movies for the past twelve years. During these 12 years he has devoted his creative energies and considerable skills to the motion-capture computer-animated films (Beowulf, Polar Express, A Christmas Carol) -- to mixed results. The results were not great due to both the limitations of the technology and its tendency to hook filmmakers into overkill and bombast. Now with "Flight" he has returned to serious-minded drama, which displays the collateral damage that results from an alcoholic spiral. 

         Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is a veteran pilot, who has lost much in his life. His wife Deana has divorced him and his teenage hates his guts, all because of Whip's alcoholic problem. When the movie opens, he has just spent the night with a young flight attendant (Nadine Velazquez). And just before leaving the hotel to airport, Whip takes some cocaine.  Despite being an alcoholic and drug problems, he’s still an ace in the sky, as demonstrated by the film’s visceral opening sequence. 

                   A malfunction sends the plane into a complete nosedive into the populated areas. Whip avoids a disaster by first inverting the plane and then steers it toward an open field to avoid crashing in a populated area. At last, he lands the plane with minimal loss of life (4 passengers & 2 flight crew) when it was virtually assured that everyone on board (102 people) would die. Whip becomes media's hero, except that he was both drunk and stoned while flying the plane. 

                  The post-crash blood test reveals that he was way past the legal excuse limit. Even though he has saved 96 lives -- from a malfunction that had nothing to do with him -- Whip has to defend his actions and stave off a likely life-time jail sentence. He also must recover from his lifestyle of excess and denial, one way or another. Whip is supported by a trusted union rep (Bruce Greenwood) and a sharp lawyer (Don Cheadle). So, can he or -- should he -- lie his way out of the investigation and avoid prison?

                There's always something great in Denzel Washington' performances, even if he is playing an stereotyped role. There is his sense of calm in the midst of a storm, that separates him from the rank and file and elevates him to a status among the truly gifted actors of any generation. Whatever character he is doing, he projects a remarkable confidence in the face of just about everything. As Whip Denzel makes it all look so effortless and so professional that you don’t suspect it might be a cover-up for some inner demons and hidden problems. 

                 Even when he is doing some crazy stuff to land the plane -- by calling in his most-trusted flight attendant to perform some crucial tasks -- he is calm and instructs the attendant speak into the black box. Denzel asks 'What's your son's name? Say something to him.' She speaks a loving message that may be her last and with that taken care of, he flips the plane upside down to slow its descent. Unlike, the other roles of Denzel, Whip is a multi-layered role. He is also a villain at times; there are times when he exhibits a great deal of unsympathetic behavior. In the film's final moments, we are drawn into Whip's experience and literally find ourselves hoping that he can successfully lie during the investigation. That's the evidence of just how powerful, Washington's performance is, in manipulating our emotions. 

                   The supporting actors Bruce Greenwood and Don Cheadle doesn't get much of the screen-time; they have little to do except stand back and watch Whip implode. John Goodman as Whip' friend, Harling Mays has a great time as a drug dealer who doesn't think too much about morality. Kelly Reilly plays Whip's love interest, after the accident. Her character provides a perfect counterpoint to Whip. As an addict she has already hit bottom, admitted her failings, and is clambering toward recovery. Screenwriter John Gatins has constructed an complex tale, in which old and new allies rally around Whip, coalitions change, and friendship and familial relationships are continuously tested. The Script's final moment of truth plays as gripping as the airplane disaster that started things off.

                 Director Zemeckis has never before gone into territory this uncompromisingly dark. "Flight" shows how much Zemeckis's well-balanced skillfulness in the technical elements as well as in story and character have been missed in the live action cinema the last ten-plus years. There are also some flaws: some of the scenes in the middle part feel a bit schematic, which turn the tale into a more conventional melodrama than it really intends to be; Next, the movie's excessive running time of 138 minutes. But these aforementioned shortcomings do not undermine Washington's show and its overall emotional impact. 

                     "Flight" is a well made motion-picture, but not a escapist fare. It ranks with the great character-driven movies of  1970s (for some Hollywood’s last Golden Age) made by the likes of Sidney Lumet, Polanski, Coppola, Scorsese.


Flight - IMDb 


Haricharan Pudipeddi said...

I think this one of Denzel's best performance in a long time. Loved the scene where his son asks him while writing a college essay, so who are you?

Arun Kumar said...

Thanks for the comment, Haricharan. Yeah, Denzel's performance in Flight ranks along with Malcolm X, Glory and Training Day.