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…
One question that was on my mind throughout the whole film is: could a sober person land that plane? Would Whittaker himself land the plane had he not been stoned during that flight? The script by John Gatins welcomes such questions, and is a story worthy of its Best Original Script Oscar nomination. It also keeps the audience wondering what, or who, exactly will bring Whittaker down, but Gatins chooses a way to make the most important choice in his life entirely Whittaker’s, not leaving it in the hands of any other force.
The strong supporting actors all add to the overall power of Flight as a substantial cinematic experience. Bruce Greenwood plays the union handler, Don Cheadle as the lawyer who twists truth in his own magical ways, John Goodman as Whitaker’s drug dealer and perpetual enabler, and Melissa Leo as the key lead NTSB investigator all doing good work and further improve the film.
Flight is an elegant movie and the Blu-ray does it justice, with a terrific looking sequence of the plane crash. The picture is great at all times, with meticulous detail and beautiful colors throughout. Overall, the movie is a great example of DV filmmaking at its best (notorious pitfalls like noise and edge enhancement are absent here). In case you are following the argument of film vs. DV, which is the center of Side by Side (out on Blu-ray and DVD right now), Flight certainly shows the ability of the medium.
The English track is a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The sound design is used in Flight to make the viewer as involved in the action as possible – either through the use of sound effects during the rapid, claustrophobic crash or the use of a softer musical score in more subdued scenes. I jumped out of my seat a few times, but those effects are intentional, reflecting the state of the characters (Whittaker high on cocaine, him drowning into oblivion, etc).
The Blu-ray also contains 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks in French, Spanish and Portuguese.
‘Origins of Flight’ is a featurette that focuses on how writer John Gatins got ideas for the script, and how Denzel Washington and Robert Zemeckis came to be on the project.
‘The Making of Flight’ is about the super-swift production of the film. It was made in 35 days on a budget of 31 million dollars (again, this is another point of the film vs. DV debate – time and money – discussed in Side by Side).
‘Anatomy of a Plane Crash’ is dedicated to the creation of special effects in the plane crash sequence. Unfortunately it remains unclear if the feat performed by Whittaker could ever be repeated in real life, or whether his reactions would be sharper and quicker because of his intoxication.
‘Q&A Highlights’ is a session hosted by John Horn that features cast and crew (without Washington) discussing the film.
The Blu-ray set also contains a DVD (the DVD comes with no extras but has previews for ‘G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Jack Reacher, and Not Fade Away), as well as the instructions for downloading iTunes and Ultraviolet copies of the film.
Verdict: Flight is an entertaining, deeply engrossing film that is full of soul without the cheap sentimentality or loud dramatics. Denzel Washington’s performance deserves his nomination for the Best Actor Oscar. Flight is truly remarkable experience.