The air journey depicted in Flight has all the ingredients to make it go wrong — bad weather, a mid-air mechanical failure and an impaired pilot —yet hard-won skills triumph, as a gutsy pilot successfully lands the plane. And while Robert Zemeckis' drama has many of the ingredients to make it go right — a good cast, a riff on real-life events (shades of Sullenberger) and an intriguing moral dilemma — Flight is, at times, a bumpy ride.
Denzel Washington plays Whip Whittaker, an airline pilot with a disastrous personal life buttressed by drugs and alcohol. He's drunk when the plane he's flying breaks down, yet he executes an astonishing crash landing, saving 96 of 102 passengers. (The mid-air breakdown scenes are not for the faint-of-flying.) Can Whittaker and his career survive an investigation, or his drinking? What if the hero is also a danger?
Washington is riveting here as the troubled and often unlikable pilot, and he gets good support from pros like Don Cheadle and Bruce Greenwood, plus Kelly Reilly as a sad-sweet junkie. Portraying alcoholism is tricky, and the overly long film has some tone issues, veering from comic (John Goodman's hilarious drug dealer) to Lifetime maudlin to preachy. It's a fair character study, made watchable by a great actor, that I wish it had been more tightly written around its messy edges.