How would it feel to be a hero? Most of us rarely ask ourselves this question.
Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) most certainly does not on the morning that he wakes up, with a severe hangover, to sniff some cocaine and fly a plane in Robert Zemeckis’ Flight. However, the question soon finds its way to him as the plane he controls suffers engine shutdown and plummets to earth. With the help from two (probably three) bottles of vodka, Whitaker manages to flip the plane upside down to buy the passengers some time before they crash land.
This crucial scene in Flight is skilfully delivered through a combination of rhythm and suspense. It is true to say this is one of the best film moments of 2013 so far. Technicality aside, however, the narrative then sees the world questioning Whitaker’s addiction as a cause of the crash, and the pilot is left searching for mercy. In this sense, Flight states how the real fight of a hero is the fight between ego and conscience and, in the case of Whitaker, not to win or lose a lawsuit about a plane crash, but to win the hearts of people who really care for him.
In truth, it’s all a bit of a rollercoaster ride. We go through several moments of determination, witnessing the protagonist stop drinking in one scene to then seeing him start up again moments later. By the end of the film, some might just throw their hands up, exclaiming “Oh, just stay away from the bottles already!”
It is, however, a fascinating insight into alcoholism, suggesting that it is an addiction that those who do not suffer its hardships cannot fathom, and certainly cannot stop. Praising this aspect, Flight notes how landing a plane upside down could be no less heroic than admitting one’s failure to keep control in life.
Flight’s subtle musings on heroism is its strong point, supported by Denzel Washington’s immense acting talent. Its side story, featuring Kelly Relly’s strong-willed but fragile character, also provides a touch of warmth to the film.
Despite its Oscar two nominations (for Original Screenplay and Best Actor), Flight might not be a winning contender; admittedly, it’s full of unnecessary dialogue and some self-conscious close-ups. At its best, though, it is thrilling, touching and, fundamentally, a welcome return to live-action for Robert Zemeckis.