REEL REVIEWS: Denzel Washington flies high as downed pilot

Flight: “Come for the acting. Stay for the social commentary.”

  • Nov. 25, 2012 9:00 a.m.
Denzel Washington is an airline pilot with a substance abuse problem in the Robert Zemeckis drama Flight.

Denzel Washington is an airline pilot with a substance abuse problem in the Robert Zemeckis drama Flight.

Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is a commercial airline pilot, functioning alcoholic and substance abuser.

On one particularly harrowing flight, a technical malfunction causes his plane to go into a nose dive. Captain Whitaker is able to regain control of the plane in a fashion that’s never been done before and manages to glide the plane to safety, saving more than 100 lives.

Through the investigation of the crash, the public wants to get to know the hero pilot, the airline and pilot’s union want to hide the fact that their pilot is a drunk, while the transportation officials need someone to blame. Will the truth come out? Is the truth even relevant?

We say, “Come for the acting. Stay for the social commentary.”

TAYLOR: I’m not a Denzel Washington fan. He’s fine. He’s just always the same. Luckily for all of us, Whip Whitaker is a quiet, serious character with occasional bursts of anger and as such, he fits Washington like a sharp pilot’s uniform.

HOWE: I like Washington. I don’t think I’ve seen anything bad that he’s been in. Flight lets him act, whereas, in some of his past movies, he runs around shooting his mouth off and being cocky.

John Goodman has a very small role as Whitaker’s dealer. Both times he appeared he made me chuckle to myself. Don Cheadle was very good as the cold, calculating lawyer, and Kelly Reilly (from the Sherlock Holmes movies) was excellent as another suffering substance abuser who befriends Washington.

TAYLOR: On the surface, this film is about a proud man with a substance abuse problem. Underneath, Flight has a societal subtext concerning modernity’s systemic complexity. Namely, that the truth is not nearly as important as what we perceive to be the truth.

HOWE: What are you waffling on about now?

TAYLOR: As soon as Whitaker wakes up in the hospital, bureaucrats are telling him what to say and do, knowing he’s got a problem, but without addressing it. Whitaker’s criminal lawyer, hired preemptively, has as his primary concern to kill the toxicology report. Yet, it gets to a point where these people begin enabling Whitaker’s substance abuse, if only to get him to court on time.

His religious co-pilot is able to convince himself there is no need to report Whitaker reeking of gin when he showed up for work that fateful morning, for if an act of God had caused the plane crash, their survival too must be part of God’s plan.

Whitaker himself points to his abilities to work from within his thickening fog, rather than admit to a damaging truth.

Flight stabs at the absurdity of life on its way to a hackneyed, but no less true, conclusion: The truth shall set you free.

HOWE: Great cast, some excellent acting, and good story. The only drawback to Flight is that it makes me not want to fly ever again.

–– Howe gives Flight 3.5 bottles of vodka out of 5.

–– Taylor gives it 4 red eyes out of 5.

The feature is currently showing at the Galaxy Cinemas in Vernon.

–– Brian Taylor and Peter Howe are movie reviewers living in Vernon, B.C.