Friday, November 2, 2012

‘Flight’ will undoubtedly garner Oscar nomination for Denzel

By Steve Crum

Ray Milland did it. So did Jack Lemmon, Susan Hayward, and Dudley Moore. These are actors who were Oscar nominated for superbly playing alcoholics. Milland even won for 1945’s Lost Weekend. A few months from now, when Oscar noms are announced, you can add Denzel Washington to this cadre. No doubt  he will be nominated for Flight. His performance is a stunner.

In fact, Flight is a terrific movie overall, featuring standout support from Kelly Reilly, John Goodman, Nadine Velazquez, Don Cheadle, and Bruce Greenwood. Director Robert Zemeckis’ drama is his most introspective work since Cast Away. Perhaps that is faint praise, considering his primary body of comedy, fantasy, and animated films.  

The wrenching story (penned by John Gatins) follows a would-be heroic commercial airline pilot and his ongoing decent into the hell of drug and (particularly) alcohol addiction. Washington portrays veteran pilot Whip Whitaker, whose cocky worldliness masks a lonely, driven soul. We perceive him first as a carefree, cool ladies man, but Whitaker‘s persona rapidly changes to disgusting irresponsibility. It is the acting challenge of a lifetime, and Washington triumphs. 

Flight’s harrowing first 15 minutes features one of the most white knuckled plane crash sequences in film history. What begins as a routine morning flight from Orlando, with 88 passengers aboard, quickly turns deadly. Captain Whitaker, assisted by Co-Pilot Ken Evans (Brian Geraghty), tensely maneuvers through stormy skies only to encounter one engine malfunction after another. The plane nose dives out of control. 

To Evans’ consternation, Whitaker takes manual control. It is no real spoiler to reveal he basically saves the day, and is soon heralded by the media as a hero.  

Here is where the real story of Flight begins, as Whitaker’s personal life spirals to a devastating crash due to his alcoholism. His union rep, Charlie Anderson (Greenwood) and union attorney Hugh Lang (Cheadle)  struggle to cover up Whitaker’s inebriation while flying as well as keep him sober as he testifies before feds at an NTSB hearing. Unfortunately, Whitaker’s addiction now directly affects his ex-wife, his teen son, and a new girlfriend (Reilly). The same goes for his old friend, Nadine Velazquez (Katerina Marquez), a flight attendant. 

The only one in Whitaker’s life not negatively affected, although he is probably concerned, is pal Harling Mays (Goodman), aging hippie and Whip’s main drug supplier. Goodman has two primary scenes, and they are choice bits of grim humor. In a movie like this what other kind of humor could there be? 

It cannot be said Flight is particularly uplifting or inspiring, but there is welcome calm following Whip Whitaker’s turbulent life storm. 
GRADE on a scale of A-F: A
Take flight with this trailer:

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