Would God put 100 souls through a traumatic experience to change the heart of one man? And what if this man was living an extremely reckless life, with a complete disregard for the well-being of those who need him most? If God would put the lives of more than 100 people in jeopardy for the sake of this one arrogant person, what kind of God is He?
I’ve never thought of the commercial airline pilot as a regular person. In my mind, they are something altogether superhuman. You know when you get on a plane and the pilot is there to greet you? I find myself nodding and not making much eye contact. This person is in charge of hurling a tiny tube 500 miles per hour at 30,000 feet in the air. The last thing I want to believe is that a HUMAN BEING IS IN THE COCKPIT with REAL WORLD PROBLEMS.
I always envision my pilot as a Sullenbergian SuperHero. This dude has ice in his veins, and he’ll make sure no bird stops this bird from landing safely. And preferably, he has a mustache.
Denzel Washington’s Whip Whitaker really wants to believe he is this pilot (minus the mustache). A cocky commercial airline captain, he takes the helm of a short flight to Atlanta after an all-night bender filled with alcohol and cocaine. He tops off this wild escapade by downing two tiny bottles of airline liquor, then taking a mile-high nap when they reach cruising altitude.
FLIGHT is not a movie about an airline pilot. It isn’t a movie about the horrors of substance abuse, either. It’s about a man who has spent his life ignorant to those around him, consistently making decisions that satisfy his own self-interest. Through his alcoholism and drug use, he's alienated his wife and son. It takes the sudden jolt of an aircraft in distress to wake him up from his beauty sleep.
What can I say about the resulting sequence? It’s one I will never forget. As Whip’s co-pilot descends into his own panic as the plane nose-dives towards the ground, Captain Whitaker pushes the aircraft upside down. By the time the plane came crashing down to Earth, and the screen faded to black, I felt like I had forgotten to breathe for the last five minutes.
From there, FLIGHT takes another turn – focusing on the consequences that follow such an event. There are funerals to attend, media to meet, lawyers to talk to, and once again, monumental decisions to be made.
Denzel Washington is the wreckage of FLIGHT. The disaster is in each of his blank stares. His pupils look larger. His face is sunken in despair. Whip’s life full of bad choices has led to a place of crushing loneliness. This is a powerful performance.
The movie is directed by Robert Zemeckis, who returns to live-action after more than a decade of motion-capture animation work. The theme of isolation and loneliness isn’t a new one for Zemeckis – this is the director who brought us “Cast Away” and “Contact,” two films about people searching for something.
I wonder if Zemeckis is searching for something.
In “Contact,” it took a trip to the other side of the universe, and trillions of government dollars, to get Jodie Foster’s character to acknowledge any sort of faith. Tom Hanks’s character in “Cast Away” found solace in a set of angelic wings on a FedEx box, pushing him to find his way back home after being stranded on a tropical island. In FLIGHT, a commercial airliner is turned upside down, and instead of alien contraptions or shipping materials, our main character is led to a chance at redemption by a drug pusher (John Goodman) and a scene-stealing cancer patient (James Badge Dale, note: remember that name).
This is a very big movie with big ideas, but they’re presented in a way that pretty much anybody can connect with them. John Gatin’s script manages to juggle all of these weighty themes, but still results in a movie that’s incredibly entertaining from start to finish.
So back to where I started – would God put 100 souls through such a nightmarish life experience to change the heart of one self-centered man? If so, what kind of God is He?
The God of FLIGHT is a God who never gives up. You’d think after a plane crash that seemed to grab the attention of the world, you’d write off a guy who still wouldn’t wake up. But through relapse after relapse, easy out after easy out, this God keeps pushing until Whip gets to his judgment table and makes the biggest decision of his life.
“Death gives you perspective,” says that scene-stealing cancer patient early in the film. FLIGHT is proof that movies can, too.
FLIGHT is one of my favorite movies of the year. It earns a Leshock Value of $10 out of $10.