Review of Flight

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Directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Denzel Washington and Kelly Reilly. An investigation of a pilot's emergency landing saving every soul on-board, leads to a troubling discovery after his new-found fame as a hero which could land him with life in prison.
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Movie Review: "Flight"

-- Rating: R (for drug and alcohol abuse, language, sexuality/nudity, and an intense action sequence)
Length: 138 minutes
Release Date: November 2, 2012
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Genre: Drama

"Flight" is an American drama written by John Gatins and directed by Robert Zemeckis, who also produced the film. It features Zemeckis' return to live-action films after directing animated films since 2000. "Flight" has an all-star cast that includes Denzel Washington, John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood, Melissa Leo, and Kelly Reilly.

William "Whip" Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is an airline captain who spends the evening before a flight drinking and having sex with Katerina Marquez (Nadine Velazquez). He has had very little sleep and takes cocaine to wake up before piloting a plane bound for Atlanta. The plane runs into strong turbulence shortly after takeoff while co-pilot Ken Evans (Brian Geraghty) is piloting the plane. Afterwards, Whip has a drink and goes to sleep.

A noise awakens Whip just before the plane is scheduled to begin its final descent. The plane then enters a steep dive, which Whip corrects by rolling the plane upside down and turning it right side up. The plane crash lands, knocking Whip unconscious. When he regains consciousness, he finds himself safe from serious injury.

Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood), a representative of the pilots union, informs Whip that his actions saved the lives of everyone onboard except for six people, and Katerina is one of the people who were killed. Whip's attorney Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle) informs him that a toxicology screen was performed on Whip while he was unconscious. It shows that he was intoxicated at the time of the crash landing, and Lang warns Whip that he could be facing charges of manslaughter and drug use.

Whip later begins a romance with Nicole Maggen (Kelly Reilly), a recovering heroin addict whom Whip met in the hospital. Whip's growing alcoholism eventually drives Nicole away, so he has to stay with Charlie to avoid the media frenzy. Whip also tries unsuccessfully to abstain from alcohol before testifying at the NTSB hearing.

The hearing determines that the crash was caused by a mechanical malfunction, rather than pilot error. Lang has the toxicology results ruled inadmissible, and it seems that Whip is off the hook. Whip admits that he was intoxicated at the time of the crash and then sets out to repair his relationships with the people around him.

"Flight" is a classic drama that examines the exhilarating thrills and disastrous consequences of addiction. The early scenes of Whip drinking beer and snorting cocaine just before piloting a commercial airplane serve to establish the severity of Whip's addiction. The look on co-pilot Ken's face when Whip climbs into the cockpit also shows how far Whip has gone in his downward spiral.

The film introduces the concept of an act of God with the plane's inexplicable descent. Many of the characters in the film maintain throughout the film that the crash was an accident. This scene will keep the audience enthralled as Whip heroically tries to save the plane despite his obvious intoxication.

"Flight" tries to show that a flawed human being can still be a hero. It will lead some members of the audience to believe that Whip's mental impairment and aggressive flying style was at least partially responsible for the plane's mechanical failure. Other viewers will think that Whip's flying skill saved the plane by overriding his substance abuse. Gatins also introduces a second drug addict in the screenplay to reinforce the film's overriding theme of drug addiction. Nicole shoots up with heroin and ends up in the same hospital as Whip when she crashes.

Washington and Reilly both deliver convincing performances as drug addicts attempting to achieve sobriety. Don Cheadle and John Goodman are amoral characters who make Whip's behavior look commendable by comparison. Flight attendant Margaret Thomason (Tamara Tunie) is one of the few characters in the film with an effective moral compass.

Fans of Washington will recognize that he has played memorable but morally corrupt characters before. These characters include Alonzo Harris in "Training Day" and Frank Lucas in "American Gangster." The primary difference is that Whip's behavior is manipulative and exasperating without being overtly criminal. However, he still fails to measure up as a classic hero.

"Flight" is an effective combination of a nail-biting thriller and a morality play. Zemeckis shows that he can still elicit human drama from live actors after experimenting with motion-capture films since the 2000 drama "Castaway." He also knows how to select the best actors for each part, including the starring and supporting roles.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars