Consistency is something we rarely see within the harem of actors on screen these days but in Denzel Washington Hollywood has a man who has remained at the top of his game for years on end. From painstaking drama in Philadelphia to vengeance-bringer in Man On Fire, Washington’s work with characters has varied from year to year bringing us a glistening showcase of why he remains one of today’s best acts around. For his latest film, Washington teams with Robert Zemeckis for the director’s first live-action outing since 2000, and it sure is worth the wait.
Flight opens with Captain Whip Whitaker (Washington) indulging in cocaine, alcohol and a beautiful woman in a hotel room after what we can imagine was a rather heavy night. Setting the tone for things to come, it is a sign of Whitaker’s vulnerabilities in life and before we know it Whitaker is preparing himself for piloting a flight in rather treacherous weather conditions. Intoxicated and attempting to mask it, the captain soon finds himself thrust into a life-changing incident as the plane fails and he has to step up and pull off a manoeuvre that will save those on his flight.
Instantly regarded as hero upon the saving of the majority of the people on the flight, Whitaker is wracked with guilt and soon after an investigation takes place into the cause of the crash. As the authorities delve deeper into the details of that day, the state of the crew, Whitaker included, is taken into account and soon the captain finds himself fighting to save himself from prison following his alcohol-fuelled antics. Taking solace in his second home and befriending a similarly struggling addict, this time with drugs, Whitaker takes a downward spiral into alcoholism as his life around him slowly falls to tatters.
Marking the live-action return of Zemeckis, Flight certainly stamps the director’s name back in the limelight and produces one of the most solid and breathtaking performances from Washington in his exceptional career. Where Flight succeeds is in its blend of themes and the sheer splendid presentation of the proceedings. Opening with a glimpse of our main character at his most outrageous, Flight soon descends (literally) into a 15-minute nightmare in which we are aboard a plane that is heading for death and destruction. Of all the plane crashes and disasters depicted on screen this may well be the most harrowing. With every decision made by the flight crew we the audience are holding our breath and the sight of passengers screaming and falling from their seats to deathening thuds on surfaces hits home hard. Zemeckis is never distasteful in thrusting us into this scenario and therefore provides us with an utterly realistic, harrowing and truly gripping opening sequence.
Once the spectacular set piece takes our breath away, we are then taken on a journey through the faltering life of a man whose addiction to alcohol and drugs is as heartbreaking as it is unstoppable. As Whitaker lies in a hospital bed insisting that he will longer take another sip of drink we almost know this is going to be a tough journey. Even befriending drug addict Nicole (Kelly Reilly), whom is on the right track to recovery, Whitaker is unable to harness the will to overcome his weakness and we descend into darkness very quickly.
In one of his toughest roles of his career so far, Washington is an absolute revelation as Whip Whitaker. An individual wracked with guilt and addicted to alcohol, he is a broken man from the very first moment we clap eyes on him but throughout he is someone we instantly connect to on an emotional level. His struggle through an addiction is at times tough to watch and the influence of his friend Harling (John Goodman), whilst providing well-placed comic relief, adds further fuel to the fire.
Robert Zemeckis’s long-awaited live-action return is a beautifully harrowing blend of drugs, alcoholism and religion all depicted with a harsh emotional edge. Denzel Washington’s performance is worthy of the Oscar nomination and the brief glimpses of John Goodman offer light relief in what is essentially a morality film. The plane crash opening is as gripping and tough to watch as any and the story which follows continues to dig deep into the emotional core of the viewer. Flight is a soaring success and one that marks the return of a fantastic filmmaker and the continuation of one of the best actors around.
Film Rating: 4 out of 5 F's