To quote Superman: “Flying is still the safest way to travel.” Granted, that may be true. But, “Flight” gave audiences a chance to analyze pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) as they pondered “Would I feel safer with this man in the cockpit” in this riveting character study.

“Flight” started by giving viewers a glimpse into the life of Whitaker as he downed liquor and argued with his ex-wife as a nude flight attendant shuffled for her clothes, all before doing a line of cocaine. This pilot clearly had a story.

Soon he was forced to confront his troubles after landing a “doomed plane” in one of the most breathtaking and intense plane sequences of all time.

Now as the movie clearly stated, the result of the crash was a technical malfunction, but given Whitaker’s inebriation discovered by a toxicology report, allegations began to fly that his physical condition caused the wreck.

This seemed like the beginning of a rousing courtroom thriller in which one man and his lawyer pal dug deeper and deeper to uncover the truth and nothing but the whole truth. But, in reality, this was a stirring drama about one man taking responsibility for his addictions. After the wreck, Whitaker dumped all his booze and vowed never again, never again! As the movie progressed, he slipped in and out of bottles whenever he had to confront the idea that though he landed the plane, saving many lives, his condition still could’ve put many in jeopardy. One began to gain sympathy for the man and scream “No!” as he reached for yet another bottle.

Contrary to what the trailers led the audience to believe, the plane crash was more of a catalyst, forcing Whitaker to realize he had a problem and to stop finding external reasons for his problems such as “It was the plane’s fault; it was the plane’s fault!”

Washington gave his best performance since “Training Day” as the charming and likeable, yet haunted and defensive, Whitaker who commanded attention in a heartbreaking portrayal that begged the audience to want to dig deeper into his soul.

With a great performance came a great director, and one was present in the form of Robert Zemeckis in his return to live-action. Zemeckis knew any good character drama should offer two viewpoints of the lead characters. So we had “is he a tortured hero who just needs a hand” or “a drunken baffoon who needs to suffer the consequences”? The movie gave way for both possibilities and a conclusion that could satisfy both parties yet leave room for reinterpretation.

Though a little beefy at about 140 minutes, this may not be the movie audiences were expecting (as evidenced by an older man behind me who muttered that very thing at the movie’s end), but it was still an engaging portrayal of a human being forced to face his demons in the wake of a tragic event that could’ve suffered as a result. Washington will most likely earn an Oscar nomination for his role, and Zemeckis deserves one for his work behind the camera for creating such an affecting and moving work.

My takeaway? Let’s just say I will be bringing a breathalyzer upon my next airline travel.

Grade: A-

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