Here I go banging on about trailers again. The trailer for the drama “Flight” featured liberal use of “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones which is my favourite song. So favourite I have just about every cover ever made of Gimme Shelter (about 10) in my iTunes. Fascinating detail – I know. Unfortunately the film didn’t feature the song anywhere near to the same extent as the trailer implied, however have I decided to get over that.
Flight is the first film by director Robert Zemeckis (Cast Away, What Lies Beneath) since 2000 and screenwriter John Gatins has been nominated for an Academy award for Best Original Screenplay. The story of the aircraft was based very loosely on the crash of Alaskan Airlines Flight 261 in 2000.
Flight is a compelling drama – a fascinating character study of a flawed hero. William “Whip” Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is commercial pilot for SouthJet. Divorced from his wife and estranged from his son, he parties hard with flight attendant Katerina Márquez (Nadine Velazquez). Waking up in an Orlando hotel room after a night of heavy drinking, sex and very little sleep Whip snorts a line of cocaine to bootstrap himself awake. Duly fortified he dons uniform and persona, striding out to take command of SouthJet Flight 227 to Atlanta. It is a foul morning. Sheets of rain and unpredictable gusts of wind.
His cabin crew greet him, business as usual, professionals all. His co-pilot on this flight is the straight-laced Ken Evans (Brian Geraghty). Whip and Ken have never flown together before. Ken senses that something is odd with Whip.
In Atlanta about this time Nicole Maggen (Kelly Reilly) heroin addict, rental laggard and versatile masseuse, approaches her dealer for some more product. This is strong stuff he warns.
Nicole ignores her dealers safety instructions and begins a slide into oblivion.
Sounds tawdry? Nicole was also a loved and loving daughter, and an artistic soul.
Meanwhile flight 227 takes off in shocking weather conditions. After some hair-raising turbulence Whip guides the plane into some clear air with a few unconventional maneuvers much to Co-Pilot Ken’s consternation. After a few minutes of smooth flying all hell breaks in the cockpit as Flight 227 pitches forward in a catastrophic dive. With his co-pilot on the very edge of panic, an aircraft that refuses all attempts at control, and the ground (and houses!) looming Whip calmly inverts the aircraft, rolling it on its back using what controls still function, buying time before both engines shut down and Flight 227 glides eerily into a field near a church.
102 souls on board, only 6 die in the crash.
In hospital Whip’s path converges with Nicole’s and they disappear together to fight their respective demons at Whip’s father’s old crop dusting property. The crash investigators are quite thorough and while the sheer skill, presence of mind and heroism of Whip is irrefutable, so is the fact that he was drinking and taking drugs. As the apportionment of liability commences between the Airline, the Manufacturer and the Pilots Union it is clear that Whip will take a hammering and possibly go to prison for the rest of his life. He will never fly again.
The union employs attorney Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle) who is brilliant at pulling people like Whip up from certain legal disaster. As Whip is to pilots, Hugh is to lawyers.
Hugh has just one very simple instruction for his client.
Despite Whip’s best attempts at self sabotage Hugh has still managed to place him in a position of walking away scot-free – and a hero to boot. He’ll be able to fly again – but he needs to make one last moral choice.
This is a great film. The struggle of good people like Whip and Nicole to fight their addictions and maintain their humanity was etched beautifully. The contrast between a high-functioning addict such as Whip against the more conventional view of an addict like Nicole was interesting. With perhaps less resource, and starting from a lower base, Nicole was able to show more character and determination. She was more grounded. Whip, the fantasist, clings onto his own myth as it takes him down.
The tension, drama and impact of all of the flight related scenes was superb and I found to be the highlight of the film.
We all place absolute trust in people like Whip everyday. So praise him for what he did in the past. And fear him for what he will do in the future.
8 out of 10