Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Flight is about a plane crash and it has one spectacular scene in which a commercial airline pilot, Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington), bravely asserts control over a malfunctioning plane under extreme pressure landing it in a farming pasture in Georgia. His improbable descent echoes that of Chesley Sullenberger's 2009 Miracle on the Hudson although it's loosely based on a 2000 Alaska Airlines crash that led to no survivors.

Because it's hard to stretch a plane crash into a two-hour film, Flight is largely about the aftermath of the crash which makes it a more interesting film. What I find especially topical in this litigious era is that the film's thrust is over culpability and blame. This also ties into the film's main theme of Captain Whitaker coming to terms with his alcoholism. He had three times the legal limit for a driver and traces of cocaine in his system according to the toxicology report taken after the crash, yet he did successfully save the lives of 96 out of 102 people on the plane.

The moral question is posed: What if a hero like Sullenberger did something truly miraculous while he was in violation of the law and dishonest with himself? Would he still be a hero? What punishment does he deserve. 

The plot meanders smoothly between its initial storyline about a plane crash to a legal drama to a portrait of a man coming to terms with himself and weaves in other storyline threads between Whitaker and the people in his life.

The way his support system weaved into and out of his life and how the film showed that from his point of view, they were somewhat invisible to him, was one of the strongest films about the film:

  • There's his estranged wife and son who are somewhat of an afterthought to him. 
  • There's a drug supplier (John Goodman) who magically brings him back to life and in some ways is his best friend. 
  • There's a rep from the pilot's union (Bruce Greenwood) who is his likely his only friend that acts as a healthy influence on him. 
  • There's a beautiful storyline about a recovering heroic addict he meets in the hospital (Kelly Reilly) with whom he briefly cohabitates until she concludes he's unhealthy to her attempts at a clean life. 
  • There's the stewardess (Tamara Tunie) who survived the crash with him who has known him for 11 years and expresses to him on the morning of the flight that she's praying for him. There's a hint of a deeper mutual respect there. 
  • One can also tell there's the ghost of his late father and grandfather, both pilots, on who's farm he's staying to avoid the glare of the media (I liked the thematic hints to the 24/7 news cycle in the story)

Other supporting players in the film I recognized included Don Cheadle as a thorough lawyer who's fighting for him even though he doesn't need help and Nadine Velazquez. Cheadle has a Lead Actor Oscar nomination and an Emmy for lead actor, but I've always liked him in supporting roles like this one (not to mention, After the Sunset, Family Man, Swordfish and Traffic). Nadine Velazquez (from My Name is Earl) has a thankless job as a naked stewardess in the film's opening scene. You'd think starring on a sitcom would you lead you to better roles than this.

Why didn't the film get nominated for Best Picture? The film was topical, well-written, had a strong cast, and great themes? My guess is genre bias: The fact that all of Denzel Washington's films in the past 10 years (Out of Time, Deja Vu, Unstoppable, Taking of Pelham 123) have been seen as action films, and people (whether they be the one's giving out critics' awards or Golden Globes or the Oscars) read it as another action film.

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