“Fasten your lap strap!”
After tooting two lines of cocaine, followed by several vodka and gin chasers, Denzel Washington is ready to fly the friendly skies in “Flight,” a disturbing film that makes you want to issue a breathalyzer test to your pilot the next time you fly.
Washington plays veteran commercial airline pilot Whip Whitaker, a functioning alcoholic who over the years has built up a high tolerance for alcohol and drugs. What’s Whitaker’s cure for a hangover after a long night of drinking and fornication – a couple of jolts of cocaine, and he’s good to go.
However, Whitaker’s addition gives him a dangerous sense of bravado, as he purposely pilots his passenger-filled airplane into nerve-racking turbulence during a violent thunderstorm. As usual, Whitaker’s flight crew and copilot accept the fact that he’s loaded when he boards the plane, and say nothing – even though he reeks of booze and takes a few shots aboard before takeoff.
Whitaker manages to fly through the storm with confidence, and reaches clear skies when suddenly there’s a malfunction in the tail section and the plane goes into a harrowing nosedive. Instinctively Whitaker flies the plane inverted and forces the plane to crash land in an open field narrowing missing a church and its parishioners. With only six people dead, Whitaker is hailed a hero. That is until the finger pointing starts.
Whitaker goes on the wagon for a short time while hiding from the press on his grandfather's farm. He reminds sober until the airline’s union representative (Bruce Greenwood) and lawyer (Don Cheadle’s), show up with a blood test taken while Whitaker was in the hospital. The test revealed that Whitaker was flying drunk. And even though several pilots in simulators could not repeat Whitaker’s maneuver, and the cause of the crash was ruled a legitimate malfunction, the FAA and the press want a blood. Whitaker is puzzled by the blowback stating, "No one else could have landed that plane! It was a broken plane!"
In the interim Whitaker has an affair with Nicole (Kelly Reilly), a recovering drug addict whom he befriended during his hospital convalescence. Nicole becomes weary of Whitaker’s drinking and afraid she’ll star using drugs again, she takes Whitaker to an AA meeting, but he stays for a hot minute and abruptly leaves. He needs a drink, and his addiction is driving him down a path self-destructive. Whitaker can’t even stop drinking during his FAA hearing.
Washington's performance is riveting, and you root for him to stop drinking, but “Flight” isn’t a feel good, happy ending movie. “Flight is a about a man who cannot control the demons that cost him his family, friends and finally his career.