Whip takes center stage when his morning flight to Atlanta encounters a mechanical breakdown. In a harrowing scene, Whip lands it with four of his 102 passengers and two crew killed. The toxicology report that shows alcohol and cocaine in his system factors into the NTSB investigation with involvement by the pilots union, lawyers, SouthJet’s owner, the media, and Whip’s best friend, ex-wife, and alienated son.
Alan Silvestri’s score and song choices add another layer of commentary with, for example, “Feelin’ All Right” and “What’s Goin’ On” perfect choices for the events they accompany. Don Burgess’ cinematography and David Lazan’s art direction powerfully interpret mood, especially the hotel mini-fridge stocked with alcohol that shines like a beacon to Whitaker.
But, above all, in a beautifully calibrated performance, Denzel Washington lifts the film onto his shoulders in the first scene and carries it through to the last. A chameleon, Washington shifts from wary to wily, aggressive and angry to calculating and callous. His nuanced moods never cross the line to sympathetic, a truly courageous choice for a star of Denzel’s caliber, and the right choice for portraying an emotionally destructive alcoholic who uses those closest to him.
Supporting actors deliver solid performances, though Kelly Reilly as Nicole should have more development beyond the obligatory romantic role. Given Nicole’s decision to get clean and sober, there’s plenty more to probe. Don Cheadle as the devious lawyer Hugh Lang shines, as always. John Goodman as drug savior Harling Mays seems to have dropped in from a comedy being made elsewhere, but he’s fantastic and clearly having a great time.
The title “Flight” refers to Whitaker’s behavior as well as a plane flight. I sincerely hope that the accurate portrayal of destructive alcoholic behavior and the indictment of it resonate with and inform all who see this superb drama. At area cinemas.