Monday, December 24, 2012

Denzel from a different angle: Flight

He's been bad  before, of course (Training day, American Gangster) but Denzel washington has not played a character whose vices are as out there as Capt. Whip Whitaker, commercial pilot. Sex, drugs and rock n' soul are all part of his pre-flight check. .

It all comes to a head on that one horrible flight. The suspense ratchets up when the jet's hydraulics fail and Whip – roused from his stupor by a line of coke – must literally turn the plane upside down to make an emergency landing. The raw panic is palpable. But what astonishes is Whip's unflappable cool, born of a lifetime on the job and, just maybe, Dutch courage. The sequence is a marvel of technical wizardry. But Zemeckis never lets FX crush the story's human scale. Six lives were lost on this flight. But 96 more were saved because Whip was flying high.
That is the ethical tightrope that Flight walks. Whip is hailed as a hero, given that 10 other pilots failed to duplicate his feat in simulations. His newfound admiration and adulation only serves to lead him further down the personal chute. Not even his recovering junkie girlfriend can steer him toward renewal.

Whip is actually in the middle of a high-stakes game. The airline and the pilots union want a cover-up. A hotshot lawyer (Don Cheadle) is hired to spin reports of Whip's high-octane blood-alcohol level at the crash site. At a public hearing, the head prosecutor is determined to make someone accountable for those six lives lost. How can Whip get through an interrogation, especially the morning after a killer bender? The same way he landed the jet, with a little help from his dealer friend Harling (
The drama levels off between the crash aftermath and the hearing,, but Denzel is still Denzel, capable of holding the viewer's attention even as he continues in free fall. This is no addiction drama, but a more deftly shaded and more riveting entertainment of a man forced to face some ugly truths about himself.  Whip is a man of exceptional talent, but he is a man without any support.

Flight reminds us of Denzel's own singular talent, and just what he can do when a role hits him with a giant challenge. He not only carries this film, he runs triumphantly with it. 

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