Edited by Dorrin Gingerich
After a long night of drinking and sex with one of his stewardesses, William Whitaker (Denzel Washington) or Whip is understandably exhausted. But duty calls, so he pulls himself together for another day of work as a commuter pilot. On his flight from Orlando to Atlanta, the plane suddenly steeply nosedives due to a severe malfunction. Left with no choice, Whip rolls the plane upside down to stop it from diving, before righting the body to crash land in a field. Soon after he wakes up in the hospital as a hero, miraculously only losing six lives in the wreck. However, when an investigation is launched into the incident, questions arise about alcohol and drugs found in Whip’s blood test. Did the plane crash because of a mechanical failure, or was he drunk at the wheel? Whip insists he’s clean, and his union comrades are fighting hard to prove it. Whatever the outcome, he must stay sober until the hearing is over. But for Pilot Whitaker, the truth is already coming out.
What Worked - The upside-down flight scene is utterly terrifying, exciting, and gripping. Rarely do movies engage me enough to cause me to react, but this scene had my heart rate rising and muscles getting tense.
Denzel Washington has a knack for playing his characters with absolute conviction. As Whip, in the cockpit he’s in complete control, cool and calm. At home, he’s anything but; drinking himself blind every night. It’s a mix of truth, lies, and confusion. A lesser actor may have come across as phony, but Washington reminds us why we love watching him act.
Flight does an excellent job showing us the determination of someone desperately fighting to break an addiction, yet is still chained by overwhelming weakness to instantly succumb. We see Whip pour his massive arsenal of alcohol down the drain, only to purchase more cases and bottles almost immediately later. It seems shocking that Whip can’t see how irresponsible and destructive his behavior is, while frighteningly reminding us that this is probably what it’s really like to be an alcoholic.
What Didn’t Work - As soon as the movie starts, we’re seeing naked bodies. No developing story line, no revealing dialogue hidden in an intimate scene, just bare skin in full frontal display. In another scene not long after, we see an actress being propositioned to act in a porn shoot. Thankfully, she’s not interested and walks away, but not before a male counterpart flaunts, um… everything behind him (pun intended). It’s like the screenwriters apparently felt it necessary to cram sex into the first 20 minutes of the film to captivate our attention, regardless that they have incredibly little importance to rest of the film.
As with most rated R films, excess profanity abounds, to the point where it’d be more interesting to hear structured sentences instead of just the F bomb.
The plot seems to lurch around. The film begins at a quick tempo, but as the details unravel in the investigation, the story switches gears and begins to drag along. By two-thirds through, there are several questions restlessly waiting to be answered about the plane crash. Yes, we’re interested to see if Whip can stay sober long enough to earn an innocent sentence. That being said, we become fidgety watching his progress in limbo. Get to the verdict already. The plot takes strides to not minimize Whip’s struggle, but at the expense of the audience’s impatience.
Overall - I applaud this movie for taking on the difficult and often neglected downside of hard drinking, something our culture glorifies. It is accurate and well made, but isn’t terribly entertaining. Ultimately, turns out to just be forgettable.
A quote from the movie -
Charlie Anderson - Remember, if they ask you anything about your drinking, it's totally acceptable to say "I don't recall".
Whip - Hey, don't tell me how to lie about my drinking, okay? I know how to lie about my drinking. I've been lying about my drinking my whole life.
So what do you think? Were you also frustrated by this movie?