(director: Robert Zemeckis; screenwriter: John Gatins; cinematographer: Don Burgess; editor: Jeremiah O’Driscoll; music: Alan Silvestri; cast: Denzel Washington (Whip Whitaker), Don Cheadle (Hugh Lang), Kelly Reilly (Nicole Maggen), John Goodman (Harling Mays), Bruce Greenwood (Charlie Anderson), Melissa Leo (Ellen Block), Brian Geraghty (Ken Evans), Tamara Tunie (Margaret Thomason), Nadine Velazquez (Katerina Marquez), James Badge Dale (Gaunt Young Man), Garcelle Beauvais (Deana), Justin Martin (estranged son), Peter Gerety (Avington Carr); Runtime: 138; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Walter F. Parkes/Laurie MacDonald/Mr. Zemeckis; Paramount Pictures; 2012)

Compelling story about the curse of addiction.”

Reviewed by Dennis SchwartzA diverting and absorbing disaster movie that turns into a dark story about surviving both a plane crash and an alcohol and drug addiction. The focus is on the struggles of a compromised proud and arrogant hero pilot fighting off his inner demons, who has hidden his addiction with lies. It’s directed by mainstream filmmaker Robert Zemeckis (“The Polar Express”/”Cast Away“/”Forrest Gump”) with his usual positive craftsmanship and his usual negative of trying to please the mainstream crowd at any cost by going too far in telling the audience what to feel. In this case the preachy moralizing speech by the alcoholic at the climax was unneeded and serves as overkill, as we already witnessed his redemption but failed to actually see how his life got better after coming clean unless we believe God has a plan to use his experience to warn others about addictions.

Flight is perceptively written by John Gatins, who makes this into a compelling story about the curse of addiction even if it is still a tale that leaves much unanswered about overcoming bad habits.

Ace pilot for the commercial Southjet Airline, Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington), is divorced and is estranged from his teenage son (Justin Martin). Before his next flying assignment, a short-hop flight from Orlando to Atlanta, he sleeps during the stop-over with his flight stewardess Katerina Marquez (Nadine Velazquez), drinks heavily and in the morning snorts a line of cocaine. The plane takes off in a severe rain storm and when elevated at 20,000 feet develops a mechanical malfunction that causes it to go into an uncontrollable nosedive. Despite being intoxicated, Whip is able to use his experience to miraculously crash-land the unsafe plane on the grounds of a Pentecostal church–clipping off with the wing its steeple. Of the 102 aboard, 2 crew members and 4 passengers die. A few are seriously injured, including the fundamentalist Christian first-officer Ken Evans (Brian Geraghty). Meanwhile Whip, who was knocked unconscious, is hospitalized overnight for superficial wounds. There he meets the melancholy self-destructive drug addict Nicole Maggen (Kelly Reilly), a former photographer who overdosed on heroin and now vows to get off the juice. The two connect and he promises to look her up when he gets out.

The abused but sweet Nicole ends up moving in with Whip in his grand-father’s dust cropping farm, and when Whip gets rid of his booze and dope it looks for a moment that he’s on his way to recovery. But Whip soon falls back on his old addiction habits, as he learns from his well-meaning union rep, a former Navy pilot buddy, Charlie (Bruce Greenwood), that he needs a high-powered criminal lawyer, Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle), because the toxicology report showed he had both cocaine and a high level of alcohol in his blood and the insurance company was going to press criminal charges against him that could mean a life sentence. How Whip redeems himself during the course of the intensive investigation brings on some unglamorous but powerful moments of Whip going to pieces and no longer in denial that he’s an alcoholic, but who is desperately in need of professional help he refuses. It also brings into play how Whip’s enablers (the dealer, the union rep and lawyer) are not his real pals but are using him to get square with their own business interests. There’s also in play ‘the God is my co-pilot’ religious theme, used to explain all events as acts of God. That scenario plays out, as unbelievable as it may seem, as a sound reason to absolve the antihero of any criminal charges.

The capable supporting cast members include John Goodman as Whip’s Navy pal hipster dealer, Melissa Leo as the officious FAA investigator and Garcelle Beauvais as Whip’s embittered ex-wife.

REVIEWED ON 11/12/2012 GRADE: B+   https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/