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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

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

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Flight

Two time Oscar winning actor Denzel Washington portrays a man who is literally flying high in director Robert Zemeckis' (Oscar winner for Forrest Gump) first live action film since 2003's 'Castaway'.  Washington stars as Captain William “Whip” Whitaker, a divorced, seasoned commercial pilot who is forced to confront his demons after an investigation into an airline tragedy makes him a target of who or what was responsible.

From the opening sequence that shows him in bed with his flight attendant girlfriend (Nadine Velazquez) and having his morning fix of booze, pot and cocaine before heading off to work, it is obvious Whip has a substance abuse problem. Regardless of that personal issue, Whitaker is one of the best pilots around and he knows it, never doubting his ability to keep it all together and do his job.

Shortly after, when the SouthJet plane he is piloting from Orlando to Atlanta shows signs of mechanical problems and is headed for disaster, Whip is remarkably able to keep his wits.  Staying in control, he manages to pull off an an amazing maneuver by turning the the plane upside down and gliding it to a safe as possible crash landing into an empty open field, ultimately saving the lives of most of the plane’s 102 passengers.

At first hailed as a hero by the media, an inquiry into the crash by the National Transportation Safety Board becomes a thorn in Whip's side when a toxicology report reveals that he was high on alcohol and cocaine.

In an effort to avoid a conviction and a long time jail sentence for Whip, Hugh Lang, (Don Cheadle) a top notch defense attorney from Chicago specializing in criminal negligence, is brought in to quash any evidence of wrongdoing by his client. Also, in Whip's corner is his old friend, former pilot turned union rep, Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood), and when in need, pony tailed, hippie drug dealing character, Harling Mays (John Goodman, lending some comic relief to the, otherwise, dramatic scenario) ready, willing and eager to supply any illegal drug of choice.

A subplot involves the relationship between Whip and Nicole (Kelly Reilly, from the last two Sherlock Holmes films) a recovering heroin addict that he meets in the stairwell of the hospital while recuperating from the crash. He comes to her rescue, giving her a place to live, when she cannot pay her rent and is tormented by her landlord. In turn, while trying to get her life back on track and becoming his love interest, she attempts to save Whip by helping him get straight.

'Flight' has been marketed as an action packed mystery thriller, but aside from the terrifying in air flight sequence, the film is more a character study of a man seriously in denial of a problem that ruined his marriage, caused estrangement from his son, and even worse.  Whip is not a likeable character but Denzel brings his movie star presence and strong acting ability to the role.

That said, 'Flight' poses several questions.   What does it take for Whip to hit rock bottom, accept responsibility for his actions and lies, and seek redemption?  Second, even though he was drunk and should not have taken command in the cockpit, does that diminish the fact Whip performed a heroic task?

'Flight' is worth the ticket price for its realistic, adrenaline pumping crash sequence and for Denzel Washington’s performance that drives the film.

For those who already have a fear of flying, 'Flight', may very well cement your feelings about airline travel.  For the rest of us, my advice is to strap yourself in your seat and be prepared for a turbulent, yet powerful ride.

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