Pilot William "Whip" Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is considered a hero by many. He was flying SouthJet commercial airliner 227 to Atlanta when a mechanical malfunction occurred. He was able to glide the plane to a softer landing by flipping the aircraft upside down. Only six perished in the crash with the others were able to call themselves survivors because of Whip's bravery and ingenuity.
Pilot William "Whip" Whitaker might also be considered a criminal by many. Shortly before the flight, he was in a hotel room coming down from a hangover and while still drunk, he snorted several lines of cocaine hoping to wake him up enough to be able to do his job. Although the plane crash was due to faulty equipment, it's pretty common law that such a job as that of an airline pilot that is undertaken while under the influence, is against the law.
Whip finds himself continuing to battle his alcohol addiction as a review board comes close to discovering the truth about his condition. Even after the man has already consumed a bottle too many, he still maintains that "No one else could've landed that plane, except me." Denzel Washington brings out many facets that can be found in John Gatins honest character-driven screenplay. From the cocky attitude, to the lying, to the anger, to his internal grief... Washington's performance has an aspect that was perhaps on the outskirts of his more volatile roles such as Alonzo Harris in Training Day- a sense of control that brings about the audience's sympathy. Whip is such a layered part and Washington (reminding me of Gene Hackman) is able to transition from out of control rage to a quiet demeanor without any false pretense.
Immediately after, I thought that Flight was first and foremost just a performance film. A movie where most of the draw comes from an enigmatic character. I then think of the other talented involved in back of the camera. Director Robert Zemeckis knows exactly where to put the camera and direct actors as to move the stry along. It's extremely impressive how he and his usual collaborators draw parrallels between a literal crash landing and a man hitting rock bottom in his life. Certainly,Washington does a lot of work, but I almost feel like I'm understating the decisions made by the artists behind what the audience can see. The rest of the cast is great as well, especially Kelly Reilly as a drug addict whose story mirrors Whip's descent.
Flight is a painfully honest movie that is somewhat quiet after the first fifteen minutes, but even without a plane crash taking place, the movie feels as nailbiting as a fantastic character-driven piece.