The Flick Chicks

Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Flight | Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood, Kelly Reilly, Melissa Leo | Review

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  4_Chicks_Small Jacqueline Monahan

Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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Flight | Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood, Kelly Reilly | Melissa Leo | Review

If ever there were a cautionary tale about drunk driving, well, flying, it’s this one.

William Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is a divorced, hard living pilot who soaks, snorts, and smokes himself into continual substance saturation.  Then he gets into a plane and manages to achieve a crash landing with only six casualties out of 102 due to his skill, quick reflexes, and cool head.

The NTSB investigation that follows centers on equipment failure and pilot error, but Whitaker’s got a savvy lawyer (Don Cheadle) and a friend in the airline union (Bruce Greenwood) to smooth things over.  He’s also got Harling Mays (John Goodman) a pony-tailed pal in another type of business that entails lines of white powder and rolled money tubes.

Whitaker meets addict Nicole (Kelly Reilly) while recuperating in the hospital and they understand each other’s struggle, although Nicole is trying to recover while Whitaker seeks immersion in his favorite vices – driven by the fact that he could be found guilty of manslaughter at the conclusion of the NTSB investigation headed by Ellen Block (Melissa Leo).

Other complications include his relationship with estranged ex-wife Deana (Garcelle Beauvais) and disillusioned son Will (Justin Martin).  The sometimes arrogant, sometimes introspective pilot is capable of shedding a tear or two between moments of clarity and blackout.

The film belongs to Washington, whose face must reflect a host of conflicting emotion, including anger, regret, confusion, and resolve.  Goodman provides a forced comic relief, but it is because he is so well-liked and recognizable, not his loud, laughably accented character.  Cheadle has one of those nuanced faces, particularly adept at transmitting pain, betrayal, and anger without having to open his mouth.

Reilly’s recovering addict Nicole is not given enough depth to know much about her except that she is supposed to be the embodiment of a conscience that Whitaker may or may not possess.  The chameleon-like Leo has a short, pivotal scene that by necessity distills her screen presence into a one-two punch of bureaucracy and sensitivity.

Director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Back to the Future) kick starts the adrenaline quickly, and then brings the action back down to the mundane events of everyday life that contain the bulk of the drama.

From a plane’s descent to a man’s, Zemeckis details the subtle amplification of guilt, denial, rationalization, and addiction by focusing on one dubious anti-hero instead of special effects (and they are amazing).  During the first 15 minutes you’ll be taken along on a white-knuckle shriek of a ride, experiencing both Whitaker’s flaws and expertise in a way that can cause the character’s inner conflict and outer bravado to clash, crashing and burning in the pilot’s own personal pocket of turbulence.

What’s a guy to do when everything’s on the line, but the only line that matters is something he snorts?

As the Tom Petty song declares:
“I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings.  Comin’ down is the hardest thing.”

Sometimes even back on earth, there’s a whole lot farther to fall.


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