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November 3, 2012 | 12:00 p.m. CST
In the beginning of the movie Flight, Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) has barely slept all night. He’s still drunk, which wouldn’t be a problem except for one thing: They’ve got a plane to catch, and Whitaker is the pilot.
As startling as it seems, this day for Whitaker is just like any other. He’s flown while intoxicated many times before and always compensates for the drunken stupor with a line of cocaine.
Whitaker takes the cockpit seat, and what follows is one of the most terrifying airplane crash scenes ever to be filmed. At times it feels like a sick amusement park ride, one that leaves knuckles white and hearts racing for days.
Amidst the panic, Whitaker’s voice remains calm. He comes up with a plan that allows the plane to slow down and land in an open field, which is a feat that even other pilots find astounding. The media deem Whitaker a hero. The plane malfunctioning was a freak accident, and Whitaker’s actions were nothing short of a miracle.
A closer look reveals an empty life and a trail of people Whitaker has hurt and subsequently lost from his denial of a serious alcohol problem. In this role, Washington takes on an unforgettable character—a man whose worst enemy is himself.
Whitaker’s lawyer (Don Cheadle) will do anything to keep his client out of jail and walks the fine line between sleaze and loyalty. The film leaves a few questions with some dangling plot lines, and some make you wonder if the characters that wandered in front of the camera were on their way to a performance in another movie. Kelly Reilly, for example, plays a woman who happens into Whitaker’s life after the crash. Her performance epitomizes the nervous and erratic drug addict, who eventually must decide if her relationship with Whitaker is worth working through the dysfunction. Her character, however, doesn’t seem to have a natural development in the film.
Still, Washington fans will find his performance as captivating as ever. The climax of the movie occurs when the future of Whitaker’s life hangs on a single lie, and the moral dilemma in that moment will leave viewers entirely torn.