Flight-poster-1Let’s get this straight, Flight is a film in which the most nerve-shredding, dramatic part is at the start of the movie? No.

What is true is there is there is a spectacular sequence in which the excellently named Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) manages to roll a nose diving passenger jet before flying it upside down and righting it just before a crash-landing. But it isn’t the most dramatic or powerful section of the film. 

However it is exhilarating. A lot of it’s impact comes from the film’s opening which sees Whitaker awake from a particularly heavy night of spirits, drugs and flight attendants. As Whitaker snorts cocaine to set him straight its a genuinely stomach-churning sight to see him coolly stroll towards his waiting aircraft and assume captaincy at the controls. It’s a great character set-up that speaks volumes about who the man is.

It’s this existent tension that forms a powerful foundation for what is to follow. Perhaps its because we’re all intimately familiar and probably somewhat apprehensive of flying that makes the aircraft’s sudden plummet tie knots in the audience’s gut.

Its thrillingly filmed, almost exclusively from inside the aircraft, locking the viewer in with the crew and passengers as it nose-dives. Its one of the finest pieces of action cinema in recent times and had my heart racing, recalling the effect the Truck/Bat-pod/Bat chase at the end of The Dark Knight Rises had on me.

Denzel Washington as Whip Whitaker.

Denzel Washington as Whip Whitaker.

There is a strange dichotomy in seeing the supremely calm, confident Whitaker expertly handle the controls and pull off the impossible while knowing he’s still Mark Wahlberg’d. It brilliantly sets him up as someone we view as both a hero and someone who’s done something very wrong.

It’s this moral question that underpins the film’s thematic explorations. It’s certainly a fascinating one that hasn’t been examined in cinema this interestingly. Can he be lauded as a hero in public before having his wings taken and sent to prison? He did, after all, pull off a crash-landing no other pilot could.

↓↓ ʇɥƃıɹdn dǝǝʞ ↓↓

↓↓ ʇɥƃıɹdn dǝǝʞ ↓↓

Denzel Washington is, as ever, on top form. Noted arts commentators have recently hailed him as the ‘the best actor ever’ and its no mean feat to see why he’s been nominated for a best actor Oscar. It is an incredible performance. Washington plays the alcoholic Whitaker with incredible nuance, every bit the problem drinker going through stages that are alarmingly recognizable  from the delusional belief he has chosen drink and is embracing it, to nights spent drinking though huge amounts of booze with the only end being the inevitable passing out.

Mark Walhberg'd

Mark Walhberg’d

Its also great to see someone with this problem being portrayed as a very good man, someone we can really root for, not just the horrid or comical alcoholic that crops up far too often in cinema. And its this that makes later events of the film even more nerve-shredding than the plane crash. Its a testament to the writing of John Gatins that it’s the moments of Whitaker’s internal struggle that are the most dramatic (that and the Oscar he’s nominated for). There’s a showdown between Whitaker and a fridge that has a palpable weight and sense of titanic struggle that Michael Bay can only dream of imbuing his big robots hitting each other in the face. The outcome also left me reeling and joining in the gasps from the audience. To start with such a tense, visually impressive opening and then increase the stakes through personal dramas is a screenwriting stunt that really needs to be seen to be believed. 

Washington is lent able support, most notably from Don Cheadle as Hugh Lang, the lawyer brought in to save Whitaker’s bacon. An initially dodgy figure, he’s an interesting character who uses somewhat underhand tactics in his pursuit of what he views as the just position. Cheadle hasn’t been as good as this since Hotel Rwanda.

As Harling Mays, Whitaker’s supplier, John Goodman provides the comic relief of the film, and broad that comedy is. As the overweight, eccentric, verbose Georgian, Hays brings levity to the film at the right moments, despite his role within it.
Kelly Reilly as recovering heroin addict Nicole Maggen provides a nice counterpoint to Whitaker, being a character further down the road to recovery than he. It makes sense that she’d stay with him and there’s a nice chemistry of mutual care and guidance between the two.
 

Washington as Whitaker, Don Cheadle as Hugh Lang and Bruce Greenwood as Charlie  Anderson.

Washington as Whitaker, Don Cheadle as Hugh Lang and Bruce Greenwood as Charlie Anderson.

Ultimately though, this is Whitaker’s film. With a great performance by Washington and sensitive script by Gatins, Flight is a powerful and moving film that accurately and respectfully explores issues of substance addiction and their ramifications. Through directly addressing the issue and using a cleverly metaphorical situation, Flight is a movie that should be seen by everyone.
By RJ Bayley.
Think the praise heaped upon the movie is a flight of fancy? Let us know in the comments below!
You can follow RJ Bayley on twitter: @Chunder_thunder
and follow Goats In The Machine on twitter for updates on articles: @GoatsInMachine
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