Although I am not exactly an avid movie-goer, occasionally something comes along to entice me into the theater, even if not always in a timely fashion. Which explains why I didn’t get around to seeing Flight with Denzel Washington, released on November 2, until just over a week ago. And it was definitely worth the wait.
Being a nervous flyer who nevertheless is addicted to the Air Crash Investigation series, it would seem that watching a film depicting a horrendous passenger plane crash isn’t exactly a great way to manage and/or overcome that fear, especially since the film’s chillingly realistic portrayal of the entire take-off, flight and crash landing scenario are enough to induce a palpable rush of adrenaline and remind aerophobia sufferers of their deeply held fears regarding the not-so-friendly skies. With one exception: even as someone with a rudimentary understanding of the laws of physics, I recognized that the film maker’s required a willing suspension of disbelief in terms of the extreme maneuver Denzel Washington employs as seasoned pilot Whip Whitaker (cool name!) to save as many lives as possible in the final moments of the doomed airliner. Still, it’s an impressive sight.
But the real action in the film takes place in the human psyche. Once the crash landing is over and the NTSB investigation begins, it becomes a character study of man who is as broken as the plane he managed to bring down with just six fatalities. Viewers get a glimpse of this in the movie’s opening scene, which I had to admit, took me by surprise as the first thing the camera focuses on is the naked torso of the flight attendant with whom Whip has just spent an evening of drunken debauchery. Where at first this seemed a bit gratuitous, as the story unfolds it becomes clear that this was needed to emphasize just how far the film’s protagonist had fallen — just in case showing up for a flight simultaneously stoned and hungover wasn’t enough to underscore this point.
And yet, thanks to Denzel’s excellent acting, a well-written script, a talented supporting cast and a riveting pace, it never descends into fodder for a Lifetime Movie of the Week. You find yourself at once cheering Whip on and wanting to shake some sense into him as he battles his demons, which he ultimate overcomes thanks to an unforeseen plot twist that finally forces him to take responsibility and suffer the consequences. Which brings me to another point: the film never makes excuses for his bad behavior, even as it attempts to explain its underlying causes. Without resentment and with full acknowledgment that actions rightfully have consequences, Whip takes his medicine like a man. No excuses, no wallowing in real or perceived victimhood. A refreshing change from most of the PC psychobabble coming out of Hollywood these days.
One quibble: there is a scene featuring the gravely injured co-pilot, his wife and Whip which appears to denigrate Christianity by portraying former two characters as religious kooks. An unfortunate and unnecessary blight on an otherwise stellar effort.
Accompanied by an excellent soundtrack featuring the Rolling Stones, Flight is a turbulent and ultimately triumphant ride. Check out the trailer below: