It’s hair-raising – but DON’T MISS this FLIGHT! It’s an unexpectedly emotional, quiet, faintly pious, but deeply engrossing dramatic thriller, which stars a slightly paunchy Denzel Washington as a veteran airline pilot named Whip Whitaker; he’s as cocky as his name. He struts down the gangway, immaculate in uniform, sunglasses on, baby. In fact, he’s cruising on autopilot – until one day he can’t. His aircraft suddenly takes a nosedive and he needs to use every trick up his perfectly pressed sleeve to try and save the day. Don’t let anybody ruin these scenes for you– someone almost ruined them for me.
Let’s just say that some high-flyin’ expertise is involved, and if you’re a white-knuckle flyer, you might want a comfort bag nearby. But it’s what happens after the flight, that the really scary trip begins, and Denzel is plunged into uncharted professional and personal territory. It’s here that I’d like to say no more about the plot, except what the previews have said– and they’ve said too much– that this pilot may have already been higher than a kite on take off.
Washington is absolutely mesmerizing here as a guy who’s used to getting it done. He’s never been caught out, and we don’t want him to be. But Washington’s charisma as an actor complicates things for the audience as the camera hovers in close up on Whip’s every tick, the way his lips say one thing and his eyes say another. It’s a deeply felt, fully fleshed out performance.
And as good as Washington is, John Goodman as Harling Mays – a roving Doctor Feelgood with a bag of tricks – steals every scene he’s in. Looks to me like an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor. Also impressive is Don Cheadle as a no-nonsense attorney, and Melissa Leo who plays the head of the NTSB with the coiled energy of a famished cat stalking its prey
The plot takes its time and some would say a few detours as Pilot Whitaker befriends a heroin addict; Kelly Reilly is a gorgeous ruin in the role. They meet in a stairwell of the hospital after the accident, in a wild scene that at first seemed like it was lifted from another movie. It’s a long way to go to make a point about mortality and truth telling; but the director who gave us Tom Hanks hits CASTAWAY and FOREST GUMP – Robert Zemeckis – is used to taking his time. I stayed with it, and it was more than worth the trip. FLIGHT takes you all the way there.