Airline pilot Whip Whitaker had an epic layover in Orlando – an all-nighter with a sexy stewardess and much imbibing. He puts on his uniform, shows up for work and dozes off in the cockpit, an accident waiting to happen.
But when it does, nobody is cooler under pressure than Whip, given an aged, icy competence by Denzel Washington. He gets a doomed jetliner on the ground near Atlanta with minimal loss of life. He's a hero, right? Except for all that earlier stuff.
What do you do with a self-destructive alcoholic whose condition may have contributed to a tragedy, or mostly averted it?
Washington gives one of the great performances of his career in this morally ambiguous morality tale that dares to suggest that maybe this guy's condition was a good thing – in this case.
One thread of the story concerns Whip trying to get a handle on what has happened and to keep reluctant hero attached to his name. Another thread follows Whip's new friend, Nicole, a fellow junkie he met in the hospital.
Those two threads are deftly woven together through some of the best-acted scenes of the year.
For all its many pleasures, though, Flight doesn't quite justify or earn its conclusion. It also straddles that moral fence too confidently for its own good. But it still makes for a riveting character study and a sometimes moving, sometimes amusingly amoral morality tale set in the vodka-and-coke-friendly skies.
Starring: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman, Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood, Tamara Tunie
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Running time: 135 minutes
Rated: R for drug and alcohol abuse, language, sexuality/nudity and an intense action sequence