The opening scene of “Flight” commences the morning after a typical evening of drugs, booze and sex for Captain Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington). Following a tormenting phone call from the ex–wife and a quick fix of cocaine, he’s ready to pilot SouthJet Airlines’ 9 a.m. flight from Orlando to Atlanta.
During the flight, the plane’s hydraulics fail, causing an uncontrollable nosedive and utter chaos among the passengers and crew. In director Robert Zemeckis’ visually stunning sequence, the remarkably calm Whitaker miraculously orchestrates an unorthodox landing, saving the majority of those on the plane.
This half hour serves as the impetus behind the rest of the film, as a toxicology report from the day of Whitaker’s incredible landing soon reveals its hero’s troublesome secret: a blood alcohol concentration of .24. Ignoring advice to end his substance abuse, Washington’s character spirals out of control in the midst of an investigation as to why the plane really malfunctioned.
Throughout the film, it’s easy to root for Whitaker, but it’s hard to grasp his complex morality, which is at the core of Washington’s flawed character. The supporting cast’s roles are small and underdeveloped, though the comedic relief of his dealer (John Goodman) is entertaining and appropriate. Ultimately, when the credits roll, moviegoers will be praising the journey of “Flight” and Washington’s nuanced, emotionally powerful performance.