It's become pretty clear now who the frontrunners are for male acting awards this year. It would be hard to imagine Denzel Washington not getting a nomination for this performance. But he'll have tough competition as I expect Daniel Day Lewis as "Lincoln", Joaquin Phoenix in "The Master", maybe Anthony Hopkins as "Alfred Hitchcock" and John Hawkes as the disabled guy who wants to lose his virginity in "The Sessions" all to have a shot. By the way, I haven't seen Lewis or Hopkins yet - I just figure they are probable nominees.
But as for Denzel, as Captain Whip Whitaker, airline pilot extraordinaire, what can I say except "wow". He's an actor who's played "good guys" and "bad guys", and this time, sort of gets to play both.
The movie opens with a look at Captain Whip nude in bed with a lady, who turns out be a flight attendant. The two have partied and rocked it all night long and now its time to fly the plane from
But it's all about Denzel - check out this opening as he "gets it together" to fly that plane by snorting a line of cocaine. Yikes - do you want to be one of the "souls" counting on this guy? Then watch as he bounces out of the hotel room - showered, dressed sharply both high and drunk. The man exudes confidence and Denzel brings it all to the part. Again, "wow".
Then comes the plane malfunction and you'll feel like you are on board too with your life on the line. The credit here goes to terrific special effects and direction (Robert Zemekis) as the shots are in close of that claustrophobic cockpit. As Whip goes through his mental checklist as to how to land the quickly falling aircraft, his co-pilot is falling apart. And the passengers - they are literally falling into the aisles. It might have been perfect except I did get a bit of motion sickness over the shaky camera.
From there, Whip goes from hero to possible criminal as evidence builds he was "flying under the influence". Bruce Greenwood plays an airline pilot union guy who has known Whip for years, and he brings in Don Cheadle as the lawyer who will try to get Whip absolved of any blame. The problem with being a functioning alcoholic is that for most jobs, if you screw up, no one dies, In the airline pilot business, you may not even screw up , but if you are found out, it's over.
What I took mostly from this story and Denzel's performance is the extraordinary lengths addicts will go to deny the truth. His wife has left him, his son hates him, he narrowly escapes death, but because he is so confident and so good at flying a plane, it all passes right through Whip. I know the old saying is you have to "hit bottom", but boy, Whip really tests that belief. Watch Denzel's facial expression and body language as he conveys this journey better than maybe anyone else could. And through all this, I kind of rooted for him.
"Flight" is an incredibly well acted portrait of a man in trouble who refuses to believe it. It might have been perfect except for a few strange things, including comic relief from John Goodman as Whip's supply man. Sometimes I cringed at this character. And a woman Whip meets named Nicole (Kelly Reilly), with her own addict troubles, is not the strongest thing either. I don't blame her- it's hard to share the screen with Denzel and hold your own. I give "Flight" a "9".