Flight is a character study that needed to be handled with care. Fortunately, it received the treatment it required from director Robert Zemeckis and actor Denzel Washington. Without the work of these two people, this film could have ultimately become an overly dramatic mess. The film is over two hours long, which can become dangerous territory, as some movies feel as if they've been stretched too thin. While Flight moves slowly, it accomplishes the major feat of making its audience care about a utterly irresponsible character and allowing us to witness his growth.
Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is an airplane pilot who miraculously manages to land a damaged passenger plane. With six death and over one hundred lives saved, he begins to receive praise for his heroic actions. The government starts to investigate the cause of the plane's destruction. Pilot Whitaker finds himself at the center of this investigation when he's accused of being under the influence of alcohol and cocaine while operating the plane on that tragic day. Meanwhile, he meets Nicole (Kelly Reilly), who is attempting to overcome her drug addiction.
The disastrous flight takes off very early in the running time. This is surely the most intense group of sequences in the entire film. Even though you already know the outcome, viewers won't be able to help but be on the edge of their seats. Enjoy it while you can, because that's the first and last time that occurs in this feature. Once Whip wakes up in the hospital, the film slows down. It doesn't take long until his drug dealer, Harling Mays (John Goodman), visits him. This film is very serious and dramatic, but Harling's small amount of screen time is important. Despite the tonal shifts, he delivers funny one-liners that are desperately needed amongst the drama. The rest of the film follows Whip's every day life, as he tries to cope with his past, present, and future. Whip's decisions become so unbearably horrible that one would think that audiences would stop caring about this character. However, Flight manages to keep viewers wanting him to get help, even through all of the infuriating choices he continues to make. There are times when you'll get the urge to yell at the screen telling him to stop what he's doing.
This character study primarily focuses on Whip's repetitive daily life, which consists of a lot of drinking and passing out. It would have been more interesting to focus on plot points, such as the legal investigation and his non-existent relationship with his son. These are both reduced to an extremely small amount of the running time. One of the main relationships on screen is between Whip and Nicole. While they meet each other during an incredibly difficult part of their lives, Nicole proves to be a good influence for Whip. There are some genuine conversations between them, which really enhances Whitaker's character beyond being a pilot who is addicted to drugs and alcohol. These are some of the only scenes where audiences are able to hear about some of the more personal details of his life. Even though the ending isn't great, it manages to tie the story up nicely during the federal conference and character growth is present.
Denzel Washington stars in the calm and collected character that audiences love to see him in. He does an absolutely fantastic job in the role of Whip. Some of the dialogue would come across as being sappy on paper, but Washington manages to convey his emotions with ease. Kelly Reilly is convincing as Nicole. She comes across as genuine, especially during the personal conversations with Washington. Reilly is excellent with this material. John Goodman contrasts the drama with his humor very well in the role of Harling Mays. While some may find his performance to be out of place, I found it to be refreshing. This is an excellent cast that truly pulls the film together.
Flight is a film about a fallen hero who struggles to find the right path. While his decisions become unbelievably frustrating, the story still manages to make us care about this character. Unfortunately, some of Whip's plot points become repetitive and the time could have been better spent on exploring ground that barely gets covered. The pacing may be a problem for some, as this movie takes its time to deliver its message. Regardless of the film's problems, the script works undeniably well with this incredibly talented cast. The film has its messages about the abuse of drugs and alcohol, but it fortunately doesn't preach much. Flight has its flaws, but it's worth checking out. Recommended.