“Flight”: Airline Pilot in Denial About His Addictions

Like the movie Smashed addressed in yesterday’s postFlight, another new flickis mainly about the addiction issues of the main character, an airline pilot named Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington).

At the start of this mystery thriller directed by Robert Zemeckis, Whitaker makes a needed and harrowing crash landing. The outcome is that it saves just about everyone on his plane and makes him a hero. A followup investigation, however, finds that Whitaker had been under the influence of alcohol and cocaine.

Basically, the film’s focus goes from a disastrous event to a life in disaster. Connie Ogle, Miami Herald, capsulizes the aftermath of the crash landing:

Flight, then, is not about post-traumatic stress or survivor’s guilt; it’s an examination of a man’s inability to come to terms with his alcoholism. But once you get past the intriguing fact that although Whip’s job puts hundreds of lives into his hands on a daily basis yet he’s cavalier about protecting them, the movie doesn’t feel much different than any other exploration of addiction. All the usual cliches are here. Whip has a shattered marriage in his past and is estranged from his teenage son. He hooks up with a young drug addict (Kelly Reilly) who’s trying to get sober. He lashes out at anyone who tries to help him even as he promises, ‘I can stop on my own.’

Other notable stars include Don Cheadle as Whitaker’s lawyer and John Goodman (in real life a recovering alcoholic) as his “Dr. Feelgood hippie” drug dealer and friend (Miami Herald).

The Addiction Struggles

Lisa KennedyDenver Post: “His sins are more of the denial variety, but he’s infuriating and manipulative. His ex is fed up. His teenage son despises him. In the grip of vices, he’s an addict and not in any hurry to stand up and make that declaration. Root for him and he’s likely to fail you, too.”

Tom CharityCNN: “When he picks up a fellow addict…and offers her shelter in the out-of-the-way farm where he grew up, it’s a toss-up whether he’s trying to help or looking for a like-minded screw-up and enabler…”

Forrest Wickman, Slate:

And though the crash sobered him temporarily, he soon decides he can manage his drinking. He landed a broken plane while coked up—can’t he steer his own addiction?

…(W)hile Flight is hardly an endorsement of drunk driving (let alone flying), it’s startling to see a character spend so much screen time getting away with it—most on-screen drunk drivers can’t drive a block without finding a telephone pole.

But Did You Like It?

Lisa SchwarzbaumEntertainment Weekly: “AA, God, and prayer are invoked by various characters with various religious convictions in John Gatins’ unflinching screenplay, each time with a seriousness, modesty, and ease rare in so many movies about drunks and their journeys.”

Andrew O’HehirSalon: “Slowly but surely, ‘Flight’ degenerates from a tale of moral paradox and wounded romance into a mid-1990s after-school special about addiction and recovery.”

Roger Ebert: “It is nearly flawless.”

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