"Hey, don't tell me how to lie about my drinking, okay? I know how to lie about my drinking. I've been lying about my drinking my whole life."
Flight's opening scene in the dawning light of a hotel room clearly defines Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) as a sleazebag. While swilling beer and snorting coke with a paramour, he answers his cell phone; and his side of the conversation reveals that he's preparing to board a passenger plane as the pilot. When mechanical problems occur on that flight, he executes a daring and near-miraculous landing that makes him a hero. But the subsequent investigation begs the question: Hero or criminal?
Denzel Washington nails every nuance of the addicted and shifty, yet somehow brilliant, Whip Whitaker—from the hooded eyes and slack-jawed lies to the puffy physique (according to Washington, easily achieved with late-night meals, lots of milkshakes, and no exercise). Due to the frenzied focus on Best-Picture-nominated films, Washington will probably not get the gold statue. But he should. (In my perfect Oscar world, John Hawkes would have received a Best Actor nod for The Sessions, and a coin toss or arm wrestling would determine which of these two get the win.) The supporting cast members—John Goodman, Don Cheadle, and Kelly Reilly—are also spot on. Goodman's off-color comic relief offers well-placed interludes from the intensity.
John Gatins's Oscar-nominated screenplay is the true marvel on which everything else turns, including Washington's spectacular performance. Even without the story (which is riveting), the characters he has developed would make this a movie that consumes the viewer. Gatins, now clean and sober for almost two decades, poured 12 years into the script's creation, writing from his personal knowledge of drug and alcohol abuse—and fear of flying. When the Paramount studios would only allow a $30-million budget, Washington and director Robert Zemeckis accepted a reported tenth of their usual salaries to see this movie airborne.
I was originally lukewarm about seeing Flight, but it became one of the gifts of Oscar Quest. Amazing. Breath taking. Not to be missed.