In a return to live-action filmmaking, Robert Zemeckis' first in twelve years, Flight succeeds as a character study in a world where not many of them exist anymore. This particular examination looks at Captain "Whip" Whitaker (Denzel Washington), a man that hungrily partakes of all Earthly pleasures: women, fine alcohol, and narcotics. Hell, he can't even get out of bed in the morning without a quick bump to help him coast through his work and life without any hitches. Little does he know that severe turbulence is about to darken the silver lining of Whip’s twenty-four hour high.
However, the aftermath of the wreckage is just the beginning of Whip's worries. The National Transportation Security Board is going to have a hearing and whether Whip saved those people or not, karma is going to catch up with him.
Unsurprisingly, Robert Zemeckis really shines at the technical aspects of the film. He gives the crash a real sense of peril by leaving the viewer inside the plane. The scene very well could have been the high-point of Flight, but Zemeckis rallies the story back around its central character and the spectacular performance by Denzel Washington.
The highs and lows of Whitaker's spiral are exquisitely synced to the soundtrack. When times are good it is no surprise to hear "Feelin' Alright" by Joe Cocker and when the lows scrape the barrel then Bill Wither's "Ain't No Sunshine" echoes in the background.
Denzel Washington's selection as the Captain may seem like a curious one until you consider his talent for making grey characters shine (Training Day). Playing bad gives Washington the license to fully convey the traps that lie in waiting for a man too proud to admit his problem doesn't exist because he denies it. Whether he be falling down drunk and muttering in his glass, or utilizing that grin that has made Mr. Washington famous, he runs the gauntlet. He hasn't given a performance like this in a while and it's nice to see him given the time to develop it onscreen.
While Flight undoubtedly has one of the best lead performances of the field, it is also sidetracked with one of the weaker scripts. John Gatins drew a lot of Flight from his own personal history of addiction, but too many road bumps in the form of preaching often detract the audience from Washington's role as Whitaker.
It's not the messages that side characters offer so much as the forced manner in which they do it. The phrase "act of God" is thrown around frequently, but there is nothing to suggest that anything Whitaker did was due to some higher calling. Just experience. One of the more intriguing aspects cast away pretty quickly is the notion of being a hero. What can be gotten away with if the ends always ultimately justify the means in the eyes of others?