Denzel Washington earned yet another Academy Award Best Actor nomination, playing alcoholic pilot Captain ‘Whip’ Whitaker in Robert Zemeckis’ psychological drama ‘Flight’. After a miracle plane landing, Whitaker is hailed as a hero but when results show he had alcohol in his bloodstream at the time of the crash, his life unravels, his flawed character reveals itself, and he could face life imprisonment for his actions. After the beautifully put together ‘flight’ scene in the opening third, the plot sometimes falls a little flat but Washington’s performance holds the structure together and the climax is almost as gripping as the start as we hear the verdict on Whitaker’s future.
The linear nature of the films narrative could be questioned as the stand out scene is ultimately the crash which comes and goes in the first half hour. I can’t help but think the film might have peaked too soon and could have benefited from beginning with the aftermath, looking back, stretching the gripping drama of the planes plummet throughout more of the lengthy running time. Maybe this would be too easy, and the edge-of-the-seat excitement would be lost. The scene is undoubtedly remarkable and pulled me straight into the action, though the full frontal nudity in the opening minutes had won my attention from the get go.
With Robert Zemeckis using up his entire special effects budget early on, he relies on DW’s performance to carry the remaining two hours. He delivers superbly. The casting is a stroke of genius because Washington whilst in playboy mood: laying in bed smoking a cigarette, sipping an alcoholic beverage while a naked woman slinks around the hotel room, epitomises ‘cool’. On the outside, he seems in complete control of himself; confident smooth talker, and a well respected pilot, he keeps his dark lifestyle very well hidden. However, juxtaposing this as a stuttering drunk, lying through his teeth, he is equally brilliant. His performance is multi-layered and the study of addiction is fascinating and I was rooting for Whip all the way. The ‘romantic’ sub plot is lacklustre and I didn’t care much for the heroin addict love interest, Nicole, played by Kelly Reilly. Though I felt the ‘two screw-ups fall in love and are there for one another’ cliche was forced and didn’t work for the majority, I still wanted a resolution to their turbulent relationship which didn’t really arrive, leaving their story feeling unfinished. The strongest from the decent supporting cast is John Goodman as Whip’s charismatic drug dealer Harling Mays. After stealing the show in Argo, Goodman shows his class once again, striding into this role with real ease, providing a proper laugh out loud one-liner with impeccable comic timing.
‘Flight’ has a great concept, a wonderfully complex central character, with a top actor to take the role. It has all the makings of a 10/10 and should have been in contention for the top prize alongside the other big hitters at the awards season in 2013. The unique screenplay deservedly received a nod of recognition as on paper, this film has everything. On screen, it nearly proves it.