Denzel Washington plays pilot Whip Whitaker. When the jet he is flying suddenly takes a nosedive, Whip crash-lands in a field and saves nearly everyone on board. But Whip is an alcoholic, and the ensuing investigation leads to him being blamed for the disaster.
With films like Back to the Future and Forrest Gump among his past work, Zemeckis has shown a talent for crafting quality films centered on actors and the human experience, and Flight is no exception. The film serves mostly as a character study of Whip and a commentary on substance abuse. Washington succeeds in making his character sympathetic, despite his persistently self-destructive behavior. I’m glad to see him step away from action movies for a while and show his real acting skills in a script-driven project. On screen, he is best at delivering monologues, not shooting guns. John Goodman also appears as Whip’s drug dealer and confidant, and steals every scene he’s in with a stream of wry one-liners.
Flight’s mood can be subtle and nerve-wracking—the initial plane crash sequence had me nearly hyperventilating in my seat and assuming the brace position. Those five minutes alone, with the passengers’ pure terror and Denzel’s calm demeanor, completely validate the rest of the film.
There were times when I thought the movie was being overly didactic in its message; the threads of religion are thick, with examples of unsubtle symbolism, and phrases like “miracle” and “act of God” uttered by several characters. The occasional awkward presentation of moral sound bites does not stop Flight from being a solid character drama, and a welcome return for Zemeckis to making original movies with an adult-level of emotional depth.