The Drunken Hero - 'Flight' Movie Review

Updated on January 8, 2019
Sam Shepards profile image

Hi, I'm Sam, I love movies. My main interest is science fiction and zombie movies. Pessimistic and survival films I also enjoy a lot.

Airline pilot Captain William "Whip" Whitaker (Denzel Washington) seems to lead a great rockstar life. He has a great job, is admired by everyone and spends his time between flights by drinking and having sex with the beautiful flight attendant Katerina Marquez (Nadine Velazquez).

However, from the start, there are some details that reveal that Whip is not in total control of his life. He has an ex-wife and a son with whom he rarely talks to. That relationship is at least tumultuous. We also see him resorting to alcohol at any time of the day, even while he is about to pilot a commercial flight.

It's difficult to immediately catalog Whip as disastrous because technically, as a professional, he is one of the best.

After suffering a malfunction in his plane, Whip's flight begins to plummet towards a hopeless tragic destiny. But Whip doesn't lose his composure once. He's able to coordinate a complicated six-hand effort (with his co-pilot and the lead flight attendant) to make a miraculous maneuver that includes inverting the plane to avoid the vertical descent and a controlled crash landing on an empty field.

Out of 102 souls, only 6 lost their lives—including Katarina, who died saving the life of a child passenger. Whip is rightly characterized as a hero. Later, it is revealed that in a simulation with 12 professional pilots, none were able to avoid the death of all the people on board in the same situation.

So, what are we seeing here? Well, that's precisely Flight's strength. This is not a typical story about addictive behaviors.

Flight, more than telling a story about addiction, is about the dangers of the normalization of addiction that allow functional evasion. It's a cautionary tale about that addiction that cut almost silently, and that different types of personalities are perfectly capable of "hiding" to the outside world.

It is the type of addiction where the victims are completely functional professionals, which makes their detection and rehabilitation even more complicated.

With the pressure of being in the center of the investigation, Whip has to start dealing with the fact that, basically, he just came drunk to work. There is no indication that his irresponsibility was the cause of the accident (in fact the investigation perfectly determines the exact technical failure) but with six people dead its impossible that that issue doesn't generate reasonable doubts. Someone has to be held responsible.

Flight then takes an interesting route. The team that supports Whip, which includes longtime friend pilot Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood) and lawyer Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle), knowing that the responsibility of the plane crash is not really the pilot's, do everything possible to help him hide their story of what they call "heavy drinking". That is, even wanting the best for Whip (the prospect of being found responsible includes life in jail), his closest allies end up enabling him, minimizing his addiction.

The only thing they ask is that "simply", he doesn't drink a single drop of alcohol until the investigation is over. And it is exactly there when Whip begins to lose control and to realize, with strong evidence, that he is an alcoholic. Whip is not only unable to maintain sobriety but begins to have an arrogant, violent and chaotic behavior with those who most want to help him.

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One of the best compliments that this movie can receive is that one is convinced that everything is based on a true story until realizing (with a post-viewing investigation, if any), that everything was fictional.

And it makes sense. At the time of its release, The Air Line Pilot's Association issued a statement understanding the importance of entertainment but making it clear that it was impossible for an alcoholic like Denzel Washington's character to really be a pilot. Apparently not only is it mentally impossible, but constant regulations and testing would almost immediately detect a problem of addiction.

That speaks even better about what director Robert Zemeckis, screenwriter John Gatins and Denzel Washington did.

Not everything is wonderful in Flight. Robert Zemeckis makes constant religious parallels, flirting with the idea that everything has been an "act of God". Nothing against spirituality, but that makes the main focus to lose a bit of power.

The outcome has the exact, typical Zemeckis dose of effectiveness and corniness. When the investigation shows that only two crew members (including Whip) could have ingested alcohol during the flight, Whip is unable to blame and stain the image of Katerina. According to him, by having covered his possible amount of "lies" in his life, Whip accepts his responsibility and therefore, his alcoholism.

It's a somewhat naive outcome of a cautionary tale, but necessary to close this engaging story in a constructive way.

Movie Details

Title: Flight

Release Year: 2012

Director(s): Robert Zemeckis

Actors: Denzel Washington, Nadine Velazquez, Don Cheadle a.o.

3 stars for Flight


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    • Sam Shepards profile imageAUTHOR

      Sam Shepards 

      12 months ago from Europe

      Hi Eric,

      Thank you for the nice comment.

      Happy New Year!


    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      12 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Nice review. Great Movie.


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