When I first sat down to watch Flight, I was anticipating a disaster movie. I got one, but not quite in the manner I expected.
I'm going to clarify straight away: this is a film about addiction. This is a film about alcoholism and drug abuse and the incredible damage it can do to a person and their relationships and their life in general. Denzel Washington, playing main character Captain "Whip" Whittaker, absolutely excels in this role, and I would recommend you see it just for his performance.
The film begins with Whip waking up from what is obviously an all-night bender with Katerina Marquez (Nadine Velazquez), one of his flight attendans. We watch him do a line of cocaine to wake himself up before he goes to fly his plane with 102 passengers on it. After dealing surprisingly well with some severe turbulence and a couple of vodkas sneakily taken from the refreshment trolley, he falls asleep or passes out.
Whip is woken up by the plane suddenly taking a steep dive - with an outside shot of the plane, we see that parts of the machinery are broken, as well as the instruments inside the cockpit going haywire and malfunctions everywhere. Miraculously, Whip manages to save most of the people onboard by inverting the plane (turning it upside down) and then making an emergency landing.
Here is the crux of the film: instantly, he is a hero to the nation. His actions saved the lives of dozens of people - at one point it's mentioned that simulations were run and no other pilot was able to save anyone. But he was drunk and high and completely unsuitable to be riding a bike, let alone flying a plane.
The National Transport Safety Board begin an enquiry into what happens, and Whip has to try to stop drinking to keep up his public image - if it's proved that he was at all incapacitated, he could go to jail for the four deaths that occurred. This is where the real story starts, so I won't spoil it.
The movie has some surprising moments of dark humour, mostly thanks to John Goodman as Whip's friend Harling Mays. But the driving force of the film is Whip's drinking, and his defiance/denial that it is at all a problem, and the journey that he has to make to put things right.
This is a raw, tense, and deeply intimate look at addiction. I've not seen it done so well in film for a long time.
Watch the trailer here: