“Flight”, directed by Robert Zemeckis stars Denzel Washington as Whip Whitaker, an airline pilot that saves all but four crew members and six passengers when the airplane suffers a malfunction. However, Whitaker has an alcohol and drug habit and after an investigation of the crash starts, his morality and sobriety during the flight is questioned.
Right off the bat, the opening scene of the film offers the audience an insight into the everyday life of Whitaker. He awakens in his Orlando hotel room after a night of partying with flight attendant Katerina Márquez(Nadine Velazquez). With clothes and glasses scattered around the room, and drugs at the ready, Whitaker takes a hit of cocaine and then boards a flight to pilot it to Atlanta.
The scene that follows is nail-bitingly tense. As a viewer, you feel as though something bad has to go wrong; Whitaker can’t just pilot a flight after a night of little sleep and a morning of drugs without encountering an issue. It’s easy to think “there’s not way he can get away with it”. The scene starts out normal enough, or as normal as a pilot under the influence of drugs and alcohol can be. There even humor woven in: a ridiculous image of Whitaker, asleep in his pilot chair, while the co-pilot nervously monitors the flight, in disbelief at the state of Whitaker. However, there’s also a moment that has you questioning his morals: he discreetly mixes vodka into his orange juice and chugs the drink down. He’s drinking while flying a plane; it’s ridiculous, but illustrates an interesting aspect: Whitaker is a highly functional alcoholic and drug user.
And then, the mood shifts. Suddenly, Whitaker is jolted awake from his boozed nap when the plane suffers a malfunction. The plane is diving, descending rapidly. A switch seems to turn on in Whitaker’s mind, and he takes control of the situation. He rolls the plan upside down to stop it from its rapid dive. The scene is terrifying. It’s the definition of nerve-wrecking and showcases the effect film can have. As a viewer, you are on the edge of your seat the entire time, up to the moment when he crash lands the plane in an open field. He saves all but four crew members and two passengers.
Immediately following the crash landing, though you are relived he able to land the plane, you question yourself; it’s easy to consider him a hero,but he was also drunk and high on cocaine during the flight. The crash was not at his fault; it was a mechanical issue with the plane. However, his morals are and should be questioned. And that’s what the remainder of the film examines. What are the consequences of his addictions?
The most interesting aspect of the crash scene, besides the marvel of the visuals, of course, is the fact that as he is landing the plane, it graces over a church. One of the wings of the plane takes out the cross at the top of the church. It’s an intriguing visual metaphor. It symbolizes the morals of Whitaker and the circumstance of the plane crash. Whitaker’s ability to crash land the plane is referred to as “a miracle” and “an act of God” throughout the film. Was it really a miracle? Or are Whitaker’s heroic actions the sole reason? Should they be considered heroic since he put lives in danger by being under the influence of alcohol and drugs during the flight? It’s an interesting moral issue that plays out the duration of the film.
There is a second major character, Nicole(Kelly Reilly) whose story serves as both a parallel and a contrast to that of Whitaker’s. She was once a photographer and a masseuse, but is now just an addict. Her first few scenes show her struggle; she’s struggling with rent money and is desperate to get a fix. She ends up overdosing in her apartment and is rushed to the hospital. It’s quite a depressing look into the life of a full-blown addict.
The contrast, yet similarity to Whitaker is interesting. He’s a highly functioning addict, while she is barely handing on. As she is experiencing a low, he is experiencing the toughest challenge of his career. Nicole’s arc shows you what direction Whitaker’s life could take, what he could become.
The two eventually meet, while they are both in the hospital, her recovering from an overdose and he recovering from the crash. They form a relationship and it turns romantic. She is determined to get her life back on track and remain sober. However, Whitaker’s addictions and habits prove to be too tempting to her, so she eventually leaves. Whitaker;s drug and alcohol problems are not only dangerous to himself, but also harmful to others around him.
For me, the most dynamic and best-written scene isn’t the plane crash, but a more subdued moment in the film. Whitaker is in a hotel room, preparing for the investigation hearing. His lawyer has made sure to distance him from any temptations; the mini fridge in the room is stocked with water and juices instead of alcohol. He is visibly uncomfortable and anxious, unable to sleep due to his pressing need for a drink or a hit. Hearing a continuous knocking noise, he looks around the room and finds that the connecting room’s door was left open, probably by one of the hotel maids. He goes into the room and after looking out of the window, up at a plane passing overhead(which reminds him of the reason he is here, taunting him in a way), hears the hum of the mini fridge and opens it.
Almost as if it was meant to be, the fridge is stocked full of brightly colored mini bottles of alcohol. The interior of the fridge is brightly lit with a blue color, making the bottles stand out even more. It almost looks like candy, very inviting and delicious, even. Whitaker fights his temptations and even after taking one of the bottles, he places it on top of the fridge and walks away. The shot hold on this bottle for a moment. Suddenly, Whitaker’s hand swoops him grabs the bottle, taking it out of frame. He has once again succumbed to his addictions, on the eve of a crucial day. It’s an interesting look into the perils of addiction. He knows he shouldn’t give into his vices, but the urge is so strong that he acts against better judgement.
The scene that follows comes across as a bit melodramatic, and that’s my main issue with the film. At the hearing, Whitaker is drunk and high on cocaine and eventually admits it. He states that he is an alcoholic right there in the room, in front of everybody. The camera zooms into his face and the audience is staring at him in a close-up shot as he does so. Tears fall from his eyes and you can see the helpless look in his eyes. This final reveal is a predicable scene and nothing new.
The whole plot and character arc of the film is as well, but Washington’s acting is a major stand out. He has so much screen presence and carries the film incredibly well. Even in the more quite moments of the film, the sadness and struggle of his character comes through in full color through his acting. It’s a compelling performance and adds a lot to the character study of “Flight”.