At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Flight “2012”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Drama/ Stars: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, Bruce Greenwood, John Goodman, Melissa Leo, Tamara Tunie, Nadine Velazquez, Brian Geraghty, Peter Gerety, Garcelle Beauvais, Justin Martin, James Badge Dale, Piers Morgan, E. Roger Mitchell; Voices of: Sarah Clark, Vinnie Hasson, Randy Thom, Dennis P. Wise, Paul Volle, Hal Williams, Kwesi Boakye/ Runtime: 138 minutes

I think it is safe to say that for a long time when I was growing up I kind of looked at the occupation of airline pilot as one that was one of the most enigmatic careers I had ever heard of. This is because even though this group of individuals is one that is tasked with one of the most crucial assignments on the planet and who are entrusted with so much they are also at the same time rarely if ever part of the thought process of those who put their lives in these peoples’ hopefully capable hands to say nothing of the individuals still on the ground who are one incident from being involved in an accident with what could be seen as a huge wayward projectile. Thankfully, the majority of pilots are so good at what they do, so levelheaded under duress, so talented, so thoroughly background checked, and just decent people that thankfully it is not often they appear on the nightly news and when they do more often than not it is for sidestepping calamity instead of either engaging or being the cause of it. To that end, iconic film helmer Robert Zemeckis’s riveting slice of cinematic pie from 2012 Flight is one that regales us with the tale of one particular pilot’s encounter with calamity and the aftermath of said calamity in which the majority of his passengers and crew were able to walk away due to his phenomenal skill and bravery. Yet for the pilot, walking away from this particular calamity is also seen as both walking dead-on and, eventually, side by side with some of his darkest vices that proceed to make his life downright miserable in the face of his sudden celebrity and finding himself confronting parts of himself that so desperately want to him to turn his life around no matter what kind of professional or personal cost may come of it.

The plot is as follows: Flight is an in-depth look at a man by the name of William “Whip” Whitaker. Whip, we rather quickly learn, is a gifted pilot who also incidentally happens to be not only sleeping with his most beautiful flight attendant, but is also nearly always intoxicated and usually under the influence of his favorite drug cocaine whenever he decides to take passengers up in the air which, when you work for an airline, is a daily part of the job. Yet for as terrible as these vices are, we also soon see that the booze and coke also help to keep our intrepid protagonist operating since he mostly cannot function without their aid and plus they really haven’t had any kind of negative impact on his job performance. Yet it’s high time that he face a true wake-up call for his behavior from Lady Karma and Madame Fate for his actions. To that end, we soon witness as Whip and co-pilot Ken Evans who is wary of the state Whip is in from the start, depart from a rainy Orlando for a routine flight to Atlanta. On the way, we witness as Whip engages in some gutsy aerial maneuvers in order to get through a heavy downpour and is ultimately triumphant at getting the plane, with her passengers and crew, through in one piece. Yet when Whip soon decides to get a quick nap in for the remainder of the flight, it isn’t long before peril hits yet again. This time though, the plane does suffer damage and as a result begins to go into a descent that is unrecoverable from thus making a collision inevitable. To that end, we soon see that Whip’s quick on his feet thinking and skill in the cockpit manage to keep the plane afloat long enough for it to make impact in vacant field where in the aftermath we see that he and the vast majority of the people onboard are gotten to safety from the remains of the plane.

To that end, we soon see Whip wake up in a nearby hospital with news of the accident on the TV and the face of an old friend (and union representative) named Charlie Anderson looking up at him. It is through him that we soon learn that Whip managed to come through in one piece and, with a few exceptions, so did the rest of the passengers and crew, but he is to stay in the hospital for a few days before heading home. Incidentally it is also while he is cooped up in the hospital that we see Whip first meet a young woman named Nicole who is at her own crossroads in her life with drugs and/or alcohol. Yet whilst Whip’s relationship with Nicole continues to evolve and grow, we soon see that he has bigger problems on the horizon. Namely that the union has managed to hire him an attorney by the name of Hugh Lang and whose law specialty happens to be criminal negligence. Indeed Mr. Lang’s job on behalf of Whip, if the above sentence didn’t already kind of hint at it, is to get claims thrown out which could validate a series of tests done by the hospital that showed Whip’s blood-alcohol level was through the roof at the time of the accident thus raising the potential for some quite heavy manslaughter charges. Thus as both Hugh and Charlie attempt to get Whip ready for his time of testimonial in front of the NTSB, we see that Whip for once in his life must do everything his power to stay away from the vices he holds so dear lest he would like to lose everything from his burgeoning relationship with Nicole to, and potentially even more serious, his wings and also not having to be a guest of the state at the Penitentiary Bed and Breakfast Motel for a good long while….

Now right off the bat it should be said that Flight really truly is a no-holds barred, hard-hitting human drama that is one of the best character analysis to come from the land of movie magic in some time. Indeed this is a slice of cinematic pie that manages to prove to be a quite riveting examination of a life that is driven by booze, banged up by narcotics, and consistently engaged in smoking cigarettes. Indeed the man at the heart of our story is so lost in all of it that the only way he can be free from one vice is to engage in another. To that end, the movie manages to locate its main thematic ingredient in the form of Whip being a heroic pilot on an ill-fated flight, but this much more a story of Whip as a man than a narrative that deals with technical malfunctions or for that matter the aftermath, media storm included, whenever a plane goes down. Incidentally it is also a film that doesn’t, by and large, have that many big surprises up its sleeve due to operating as a fairly honest film about a guy’s conflicts. Not just with his addictions, but with who he is as a person and with the rest of the world who either want to help him or see him as a hero. An idea he would much rather not deal with since it will eventually lead to him having to deal with just who he is, what he engages in, and some harsh yet true facts about that crash he would rather not admit to anyone most of all himself. Indeed it is within that ground level simplicity that this film manages to find a lot of what makes it so brilliant. I mean this is not a conventional film by the land of movie magic of today’s standards by any stretch of the imagination. By that I am referring to the fact that this is not a film which is molded by gonzo amounts of special effects, ludicrous amounts of violence, head scratching comedic beats, or drama that doesn’t have an ounce of integrity. Rather this is one film that triumphs due to taking a realistic yet also straightforward and quite viscerally truthful examination of a life in the worst kind of inner peril possible. Indeed this is a film that aims to be as realistic as possible and it is through that endeavor that we get a legitimately riveting story that, whilst not what you might expect from Hollywood, is still one that brilliantly showcases how powerful cinema as an art form can be when done right.

Yet for how incredible and rivetingly linear this film’s narrative is, I feel that is the top-notch work in front of the camera by screen icon Denzel Washington that is one takes the film into the stratosphere and really makes it something special. I say that because the role of Whitaker is yet another top-notch effort from a man who is easily one of our most gifted and finest thespians working today. Indeed Washington is nothing short of remarkable here in his portrayal of a guy who may seem like he is always in a daze, but who always has a steady hold of his mental capabilities even when faced with immediate peril or great emotional stress…as long as he has enough booze and pills to keep himself under control that is. Indeed it says a lot when these vices are so integral to our main hero’s day to day that he needs them in order to not only keep order on the inside, but also showcase enough concentration in order to keep lying to himself and everyone around him that he is 110% at all times when he is clearly not. Indeed it really is the interesting quandary that we are presented with throughout this film because on one hand, we do applaud this man for what he did and for saving the lives of 96 people onboard his plane and rightfully so. On the other hand however, this man clearly has a problem with both alcohol and narcotics and desperately needs to get help and get a new lease on life, but the only way that he might be able to get that is to do the one thing that his pride will not let him do so there really is quite the intriguing push-pull dynamic with this guy and Washington does a masterful job at keeping us riveted and repulsed at the exact same time. Not willing to just put it all on Washington’s more than capable shoulders however, the film also gives us terrific support work from Kelly Reilly, Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood, and Melissa Leo among others, but it is John Goodman who is a true standout. Indeed he has maybe only 30-35 minutes of screen time in his role of Whip’s long time drug dealer/ buddy, but Goodman manages to completely make the role his own and is just downright electric and oddly hilarious in the best way possible.

All in all Flight truly is a riveting slice of cinematic pie that not only stars one of the most talented leading men of the past 3 decades, but is also helmed by one of the best in the land of movie magic at being able to comprehend the subtle intricacies of human pathos as well as if not better than the vast majority of film helmers in the business today. An accomplishment incidentally that the evidence for can be seen in his work on such masterful slices of cinematic pie as Forrest Gump, Cast Away, and now this slice of cinematic pie that you have just read the review for (funny how that works isn’t it?). Indeed not only is this slice of cinematic pie brilliantly performed and beautifully scribed, but it’s gift for regaling us with a narrative that has those of us who witness it actually not sure what we want to happen with our main protagonist actually makes for a novel yet very fulfilling human story about a very real conflict a man has with his vices whilst also trying to have nothing to do with either the spotlight the media is throwing on him to say nothing of the conscience he left trapped in the mirror a long time ago. Indeed suffice it to say then that Flight really truly is one the long-gone year 2012’s finest slices of cinematic pie to say nothing of one that you most assuredly owe it to yourself to see if you haven’t already. On a scale of 1-5 I give Flight “2012” a solid 4 out of 5.