Movie Review: Flight (2012)

In Robert Zemeckis’ Flight (2012), Denzel Washington plays a pilot under the name of Whip Whitaker, who lives a life of drug abuse and alcoholism, even going as far as to fly his planes while under the influence.  When his plane crashes after a night of partying, the public begins to question whether the crash took place because of the faulty plane, or if Whip was actually under the influence when the crash occurred.  This film is complete with humor and tragic sentiment, offering to its audience an intriguing plot from beginning to end.

In Flight, Zemeckis returns to live action film making, a concept that he hasn’t used in about twelve years.  Flight was made with the use of various digital techniques, such as three-dimensional animation, digital story boarding  and an additional brief special effects sequence, which is shown when Whitaker lands the plane that would have crashed under anyone else’s care.

Flight is characterized as a drama due to its story line following the life of a pilot who goes from being the top dog in his industry, to a victim of consequence due to his own power abuse.  There are many characters in this movie who work to shape Whitaker’s life, such as Nicole (Kelly Reilly), a drug addict in rehab, Harling Mays (John Goodman), his drug dealer friend, Katerina Marquez (Nadine Velazquez), his girlfriend who died in the crash, Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle), his lawyer, and also Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood), his friend and colleague. Influenced by people such as Katerina Marquez and Harling Mays, Whitaker is pushed to continue his dangerous lifestyle, which inadvertently threatens the lives of others.  Whitaker, however, is soon pulled into another direction and adopts a healthier lifestyle, thanks to people like Nicole, Hugh Lang, and his family.  Whitaker’s relationship with Nicole, in particular, works to replace his relationship with the deceased Katerina Marquez.  Nicole asks Whitaker to stop drinking, and when he doesn’t, she leaves him.

This film is a realistic interpretation of alcoholism, showing Whitaker as a stumbling, shouting drunk whenever he was under the influence.  At times, however, the mood of the movie was unbelievable, showing Whitaker casually downing a few beers at the wheel.  This certainly contradicts the golden rule of ‘don’t drink and drive’, almost offering a stereotype of this situation.  When Whitaker was sober, however, he was the best to be around and exemplified a model pilot and citizen.

The power dynamic throughout this film is very interesting because as the story line progresses, we see several of the characters shift from being weak, to encompassing power.  Coincidentally, Whip Whitaker loses his name and his freedom, ultimately landing in prison for his addiction.  This power shift is seen with Whitaker’s family, who he never sees because of his drug use.  Although he financially supports his ex-wife and son, they play the role of the victim because they were abandoned and are constantly subjected to Whitaker’s abuse.  At the end of the movie, after Whitaker is convicted, his son visits him in prison and says that he is doing a school project on the most fascinating person he knows:  his dad.  In this way, Whitaker’s son is now exerting power over his father, visiting him in his new state of weakness and fragility.

Because this film addresses issues of alcoholism, power shifting, and the acceptance of one’s own mistakes, it can be said that this film exemplifies themes of healing and recovery when one seems to have lost everything in the physical world. Whitaker expresses feelings of distress and struggle throughout the movie, but when he finally admits to the panel of investigation that the plane crashed because he is an alcoholic, he was able to come to terms with his mistake and begin a life of healing.  Additionally, although his deceased girlfriend, Katerina Marquez, dies earlier in the film, her spirit and Whitaker’s love for her is shown in his confession.  Whitaker has the opportunity to blame the empty vodka bottles found in the plane on Katerina, who also had an alcohol problem, but chooses to take the high road and take responsibility for his actions.

Another issue targeted in this movie is the absence of racism.  There seem to be no barriers between people of different color, which sits behind the primary problem of Whitaker’s excessive alcohol use.  This makes it seem like anyone of any color can have the issues that Whitaker is experiencing, which makes this film all the more extraordinary.

Ultimately, this work does appear to be successful.  This success is based partly on the dynamic plot throughout the movie, showing the widespread struggle of an esteemed pilot.  Another aspect vital to the success of this movie would be the realism of the subject combined with how unbelievable it would be for a pilot to fly drunk.  This mixture intrigues the audience while also making the storyline believable.  This movie has something for every audience, and just like most of Zemeckis’ movies, is definitely memorable.

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