Denzel Washington tears up the screen in Flight. While the opening sequence has what appears to be gratuitous nudity, in hindsight it withstands scrutiny in order to define Whip Whitaker's (Washington) character.
Whitaker, who portrays a pilot, is in bed with one of his flight attendants, Katerina Marquez (Nadine Velazquez). He is waking up after a night of heavy drinking and cocaine use. The editing is spectacular and keeps the plot moving at a pistol pace. Almost immediately Whitaker is in the pilot's seat and taking off in a torrential rain storm. Prior to entering the cockpit, he surreptitiously pours two vodka splits into a jar of orange juice and takes a swig as he flicks the vodka miniatures into the trash.
Whitaker is slick, sly and jovial. Aside from the alcohol use, he is the typical fun loving captain, but his private life hangs in shreds due to his dishonesty. Washington plays all aspects of this complex debauched captain's character so accurately and with such compassion that you care for his well-being when he no longer cares about others. Due to a mechanical malfunction, the plane crashes in a terrible storm and Whitaker makes a miraculous landing after flying upside down, dumping the planes gasoline and putting out fires in the engines.
Most of the passengers live, but there are six deaths, among them a flight attendant Whitaker had been romantically attached to. After the crash, I thought "What more would there be to this typical airline story?" But the whiz bang acting of John Goodman as Whitaker's dealer Harlin Mays ups the ante when an investigation begins and a series of characters start a cover-up to protect Whitaker, who could go to jail for drinking and piloting.
A legal team is gathered by a skillful Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood), who heads the union, and by the union's lawyer Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle), who has never performed with such nuance and subdued authority. Tamara Tunie plays a flight attendant named Margaret Thomason, with genuine feelings for Whitaker and has all the flight attendant moves accurate. Brian Geraqhty is Whitaker's naïve co-pilot. Stunning and talented Kelly Reilly (Nicole) appears in a hospital stairwell to share a cigarette with Whitaker, who is recuperating from the crash while she is recuperating from an overdose.
The dialogue by screenwriter John Gatins is hip and crisp, and the direction by Robert Zemeckisis competent though predictable at times. Still, it is thrilling to anticipate the fate of Whip Whitaker -- who could face serious jail time for drinking, flying, crashing and killing six people even though he saved some ninety others. You will find yourself on the edge of your seat in Flight's final suspenseful courtroom scene.