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Flight is a drama directed and co-produced by Robert Zemeckis (of Back to the Future, Forrest Gump and Cast Away fame), and has been nominated for 2 Academy Awards: 

  • Best Original Screenplay; and 
  • Best Actor


We are introduced to Airline captain William "Whip" Whitaker (played by Denzel Washington) as he wakes up in a messy hotel room. Empty bottles of motel-provided alcohol litter the floor, complete with the naked form of fellow team-member flight attendant Katerina Márquez (played by the Nadine Velazquez). Snorting a few lines of cocaine, Whip is good to go and boards his SouthJet flight 227 to Atlanta. Asking for a cup of coffee, Whip groggily introduces himself to his copilot Ken Evans (Brian Geraghty of The Hurt Locker fame), and expertly proceeds to take the plane up, expertly avoiding some chaotic disturbance along the way. While sneakily mixing vodka into some orange-juice, Whip informs the cabin that, due to the turbulence, drinks and food services will be suspended, and then promptly takes a nap in the pilot’s seat. Crash to Whip awakening to find the plane in a steep dive, where wackiness ensues! 



After a brilliantly executed introduction, we see, and can assume, the lifestyle of a pro-pilot: a life of travel, sex, drugs and alcohol. We are then thrust into a brilliantly staged and thrilling plane take-off and spectacular crash, half-way expecting Superman to come out of no-where to save the day.


From Whip’s hospital bed then does the movie begin proper, and we are slowly introduced to the stakeholders should it be found that the pilot had any alcohol in his system at the time of the crash: the Airline’s owners, employees and Whip himself, possibly being liable for the passengers killed.


While Whip’s predicament continues, we are also slowly introduced to a seemingly random female heroin-addict. I thought the character would be introduced as the pilot’s estranged wife; however it is a character that serves as a mirror to the Pilot, and an unnecessary one at that. We can see that Whip has a very serious alcohol dependency problem as evidenced by his ex-wife, estranged son, the fantastic introduction and the many scenes of Whip buying, drinking/dumping alcohol and the disposal of many bottles and cans. Heck, Whip even takes it upon himself to travel to his families’ old farm in an effort to dry out.


Very soon the movie concentrates solely on a man coming to terms with his alcohol addiction and the moral dilemma it sets up. It would have been much more interesting if the movie delved deeper into this character. Rather than looking at the symptom, it would have been brilliant to look at the cause of the problem.


A good trick with story titles is choosing one that encompasses the key theme, and therefore point, of the movie. The title The Silence of the Lambs is explained in a key scene where the protagonist confesses her very motivation to the antagonist in the form of a character-defining child-hood event. With Flight, it could be argued that the character is ‘Flying away from his addiction” but it would have been far more satisfying to discover what problem he was ‘flying away from’ using the very methods to do so: alcohol, drugs, his current lifestyle and of being a pilot itself. What draws someone to spend so many hours of every day flying around the world when they have a family at home?


The son in a scene asks: “who are you?” We have just had an entire film concentrating on one character’s drinking. We should have a clear picture of ‘who’ this character is after that time.


A 1980 movie titled, The Pilot was directed by its star Cliff Robertson and based on the novel of the same name by Robert P. Davis and dealt with a passenger service pilot during his candidacy for Best Pilot of the Year. We follow the pilot as he struggles, however, to keep his worsening alcohol addiction under his control. Perhaps then, Flight  should simply have been a remake of The Pilot, with the title intact. 


As it stands, it is a remarkably well done film with great performances by Don Cheadle as Whip’s long suffering defense attorney, and Whip’s drug-dealer and enabler played by John Goodman. The movie does go some way to enable us to empathies with the high that Whip enjoys and so desperately craves, forming an energy and humour that quickly dissipates as soon as the character reflects on his reality: his addiction and those that he is responsible for. The story however is pedestrian with a single theme that runs like a day-time television movie, complete with dated font at film’s end.


2 out of 5 flights

Luke McWilliams 2013



Join Luke McWilliams, Steven Robert and Marisa Martin as they review;

Steven will also have a look at the Cult-Classic, Top Gun