In Flight (2012), veteran pilot “Whip” Whittaker (Denzel Washington) wakes up in a hotel to the sight of his half-naked flight attendant/lover, Katerina (Nadine Velazquez), getting ready for the day (with a joint). Soon, he is on the phone with his wife about bills for his son’s private school. He looks a mess and complains of feeling dizzy, but then he sniffs some coke and walks out of his room – groomed to perfection, eyes behind killer aviators, marching down the hall to the screeching, overconfident score – a sort of James Bond of civil aviation.
Whitaker stumbles on the steps to the plane carrying “102 souls,” then powers it through tougher-than-average turbulence. When a technical malfunction makes the plane nose-dive at a deathly speed, he calmly manages the panicking crew and makes unbelievable decisions to land it in a field with a death toll of six people instead of a hundred. How does Whitaker do this? Because he is high as a kite on vodka and cocaine.
It is difficult to imagine how a film that opens with so many thrills packed into its first act, could sustain the suspense and the tension throughout, but director Robert Zemeckis manages to keep Flight riveting from beginning to end. This is largely due to the skills of Denzel Washington, who does an unbelievable job at portraying a brave pilot whose toxicology report suggests he is about to go down, highlighting the torture of not knowing when and how his demise will take place, and whether trying to control the process will bring any results at all.
Because Whittaker is hailed as a hero by the media, the anticipation of his demise is even more dramatic. Washington takes us on an emotional rollercoaster with the character who first decides to kick his addiction after a surreal conversation in a hospital staircase with overdosed Nicole (Kelly Reilly) and dying cancer patient (James Badge Dale), then goes on a boozing rampage again, then begs his head flight attendant (Tamara Tunie) to lie about his drinking, then becomes a delusional ego-maniac who thinks he is invincible...