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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Feb 16, 2013

Flight Movie Review: Dark Film About Addiction With Denzel Washington Giving A Brilliant Performance

THE OPENING scene of “Flight” is a tense sequence where a jet plane is saved from crashing by being flown upside down, landing on an open field near a church where a baptism is going on. We thought the film is one of those disaster-rescue flicks like “Airport” or “Turbulence”, but it turns out to be a serious drama about addiction that raises some vital moral issues. It’s expertly directed by Robert Zemeckis, better known for wholesome films like the “Back to the Future” series, “Forrest Gump”, “Cast Away”, “The Polar Express” and “Beowulf”.

This is his darkest, most serious film so far, showing even coke-snorting and full female frontal nudity. The hero is Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington), a pilot who’s proclaimed as a hero for landing the distressed plane safely in the middle of a storm and with mechanical problems, thereby saving the lives of about a hundred people, with only six fatalities.

The media proclaims him a hero. But before the flight, Whip is shown on a night of booze, drugs and sex with Katrina (Nadine Velazquez), his flight attendant on the plane he later flies from Orlando to Atlanta. His blood-alcohol level is three times the legal limit for driving and yet he accomplishes something other pilots couldn’t possibly have done. But could he have saved more lives if he were sober? Or did the alcohol and cocaine in his blood make him more calm and steady while everyone else is panicking?

The film is powerful drama not for those just looking for simple escapist entertainment. It’s up to the viewers if they could endure Whip’s tortured journey through despair and self-destruction. It’s a chronicle of how an otherwise decent person succumbs to his compulsion and does terrible things just to get a drink. And it shows the collateral damage that results from his addiction.

We see Whip sinking into a spiral of drink and depression. And Denzel’s brilliant acting (better than his anti-hero role in “Training Day” that won him a best actor Oscar) easily eclipses Ray Milland’s portrayal of another alcoholic in “The Lost Weekend” that also won an Oscar. His Whip is very complex, definitely not heroic. When the film starts, his wife has already divorced him and their teen son simply hates him. His best friend, Harling Mays (John Goodman), is a drug trafficker. And his flight attendant squeeze, Katerina, is an addict like him with a similarly harrowing history of alcohol and substance abuse. In the course of the film, Whip has a promising relationship with a recovering abuser Nicole (Kelly Reilly), puts himself in danger of lifelong imprisonment, and betrays his own friends and colleagues. He tries to stop on his own and says the usual line of most drinkers: "I can stop whenever I want." He walks out of an AA meeting before acknowledging he has lost control and needs help.

Zemeckis has not lost his skill of getting great performances from his actors. Denzel’s performance is multi-layered, both a villain and a hero, but always under control and never goes over the top. Kelly Reilly is a revelation as the counterpoint to Denzel: an addict who has already hit rock bottom and wants genuine recovery. John Goodman obviously enjoys his role as the amoral drug dealer of a friend. Also giving adequate performances are Brian Geragthy as Denzel’s co-pilot whose fright while the plane is diving down underlines the terror everyone is going through, Don Cheadle as Denzel’s sympathetic lawyer and Melissa Leo as the investigator assigned on his case of flying a plane while drunk.