Flight ****

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“Flight” is not at all the movie I thought it was going to be. This is a powerful story about addiction brought to life by a harrowing performance by Denzel Washington and uncompromising direction from Robert Zemeckis.

From the previews you probably gathered that Washington plays a commercial airline pilot named Whip, who miraculously lands a doomed aircraft in a field. You probably already know that he faces some tough questions and possible jail time after it is discovered that he had alcohol in his system. Well that is only the tip of the ice berg.

Whip is a full blown alcoholic and cocaine addict. He also believes that he can stop it any time he wants. The movie is about his gradual realization that he is slowly destroying the relationships with everyone around him as well as the fact that he truly is lying to himself. But that is too simplistic an explanation especially since he was able to pull a move in mid air that saved most of the passengers and crew. A move that nobody else was able to simulate.

The crash sequence in question is terrifying. Whip has just woken up from a series of benders. He does a few rails of coke to get himself right. He has a few screw drivers on the plane. His co pilot is pretty aware that Whip is under the influence. When a mechanical failure causes the plane to descend in to a nose dive, Whip is able to stop it from crashing by inverting the plane. The effects here are frighteningly real.

During the investigation in to the crash it is discovered that he was past the legal alcohol limit for driving let alone operating an aircraft. He was also on cocaine. The union, lead by Bruce Greenwood, wants to protect the people they represent so it is in their best interest to get him clear of all allegations. They hire a lawyer played by Don Cheadle.

During his time in the hospital, Whip meets Nicole, who is recovering from a heroin overdose. They share a cigarette in the stair well and are joined by a man from the cancer ward. The three have one of the most honest conversations I have seen in a movie this year. Eventually Whip agrees to visit Nicole once he is out of the hospital. When he does it happens at a time when she is pretty much living in her car. He brings her to his fathers farm where he has been staying and they begin a romance.

Nicole is played by Kelly Reilly as a drug abuser who is at her lowest. She starts to recover by going to meetings and getting a job. Whip on the other hand is still headed down and begins to drag her down with him. Kelly Reilly is not an actress I am familiar with but here she gives a great performance as a woman just coming back from years of addiction. Her relationship with Whip is the heart of the film.

Denzel Washington doesn’t need to be praised as an actor any more at this stage of his career but in “Flight” he goes places that I have not seen him go before. At no point did I see a movie star trying to play a drunk. The performance is so real and honest that it made me wonder if he has dealt with this type of situation before some where in his life. He holds nothing back. It is the most effective performance I have seen this year and I hope he gets many accolades.

“Flight” was directed by Robert Zemeckis, who has not directed a live action film since “Cast Away” back in 2000. Lately he has made some pretty incredible animated films. I think he is entering a new stage in his career. The drama in this movie is spellbinding and some what more real than anything he has ever done.

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