Review: Flight

Robert Zuckerman/Paramount Pictures
Denzel Washington is Whip Whitaker in “FLIGHT.”

It’s not without a bit of turbulence, but with its weighty subject, award worthy acting and steady, competent directing, “Flight” easily sticks a landing worthy of Oscar consideration.

Continuing 2012’s unofficial trend of the movie being little what the trailer leads you to believe, “Flight” isn’t really about airplanes or the men that fly them. Instead, its subject matter is a lot more grounded — alcoholism.

When Director Robert Zemeckis (“Cast Away”) first introduces us to veteran pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington, “Safe House”), Whip is shacked up in a hotel bed recovering from yet another binder with beer and liquor bottles strewn around the room. He’s suffering from a massive hangover, but a couple of lines of cocaine do wonders to clear his head and he’s ready for his next flight.

Robert Zuckerman/Paramount Pictures
[From left] Katerina (Nadine Velazquez) and Margaret (Tamara Tunie) prepare for a bad landing.

While everything is business for normal as he gets the plane in the air, an equipment malfunction threatens to crash the plane and its 106 passengers. Only Whip’s skills prevent a major tragedy, but he’s worried that his condition will put the blame solely on him. The crash scene is one you’ll have to remind yourself to take breath because it’s so intense and Zemeckis puts you right in an aisle seat. “Flight” probably isn’t going to have people rushing to fly anytime soon.

In the hospital, Whip encounters heroin addict Nicole (Kelly Reilly, “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”) and a terminal cancer patient (James Badge Dale, “The Grey”) who reminds them to embrace life while they still have it. It’s one of the most touching scenes I’ve seen in years.

Robert Zuckerman/Paramount Pictures
John Goodman is Harling Mays.

Aided by excellent supporting performances including Don Cheadle (“Iron Man 2”) playing the pilot union’s hotshot attorney seeking to get Whip off of any potential criminal prosecution; Bruce Greenwood as Whip’s longtime friend and current pilot union rep and John Goodman as Whip’s drug providing childhood friend, Zemeckis shows the various tools a functional alcoholic can use to fool themselves into thinking they have control. Just like when he’s in the air, Whip relishes the control and thinks he can assume it whenever he wants regarding the alcohol and drugs. John Gatins’ unflinching script shows the true depths of an addict in a realistic manner stripped of the typically glamorous Hollywood presentations.

Robert Zuckerman/Paramount Pictures
Whip (Denzel Washington) seeks solace from Nicole (Kelly Reilly).

Even in playing the bad guy in his Oscar-winning performance in “Training Day” Washington has always played the controlled, charismatic individual who could handle whatever situation they were in, but here, he explores another level — a broken and weak man who has none of the fortitude we’ve come to expect leading to one of his most fascinating and brilliant performances yet. I’d be stunned if Washington isn’t nominated for a heap of acting awards.

Zemeckis has gone 12 years since directing a live-action movie and a bit of rust shows in his pacing. Cutting 15-minutes would spare the repetitive feel of Whip consistently losing his battle against the bottle each time he’s confronted with a spiraling situation and eliminating the audience beginning to question “are we there yet?”

Pacing aside, this is a fairly smooth flight and one you’ll need to make a reservation for soon to know what everyone is buzzing about as we enter award season.

Robert Zuckerman/Paramount Pictures
[From left] Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood), Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle) and Whip (Denzel Washington) discuss strategy.

Rating: 9 out of 10