Co-pilot Ken Evans (Brian Geraghty) is at the helm of SouthJet Flight 227 from Orlando to Atlanta because the plane’s captain, Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington), has passed out after a night of debauchery in which he drank booze and snorted coke while carousing with a stewardess (Nadine Velazquez). However, when the plane unexpectedly encounters severe turbulence and starts losing altitude the concerned rookie immediately rouses the senior officer out of a deep sleep.
Despite a blood alcohol level more than twice the legal limit, the veteran aviator assumes control and quickly ascertains that the plane’s plunge is due to a complete failure of the hydraulic system. He further surmises that the only hope of pulling out of the precipitous nosedive requires that he lower the landing gear prematurely, dump fuel, and fly the aircraft upside-down.
Against all odds, he executes each step flawlessly, unless you count clipping the top off a church steeple moments before making an emergency landing in an open field. 96 of the 102 passengers survive, and Whip’s astonishing feat is soon the subject of the national media.
However, during its routine investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) uncovers evidence that the pilot had a blood alcohol level of .24 at the time of the accident. Since six people perished in the crash, Captain Whitaker could be held criminally liable for their deaths.
Will the hero’s image be tarnished by scandal? Not if his defense attorney (Don Cheadle) and the union representative (Bruce Greenwood) have anything to say about it. The two hatch a plan to suppress the toxicology report and to sober Whip up by the time of the NTSB hearing.
Directed by Academy Award-winner Bob Zemeckis (for Forest Gump), Flight is a riveting thriller with spellbinding special effects and an unparalleled performance by two-time Oscar-winner Denzel Washington (for Glory and Training Day). After the spectacular opening scene plane crash, the picture shifts in tone to a portrait of a self-destructive addict who is in denial and plagued by demons.
The supporting cast features Kelly Reilly as Whip’s love interest, John Goodman as his drug dealer, Melissa Leo as a snoopy NTSB bureaucrat, as well as Don Cheadle and Bruce Greenwood. This movie is as much a star vehicle as Zemeckis’s Cast Away, where Tom Hanks was the only actor on screen for over an hour.
Excellent (****). Rated R for drug and alcohol abuse, nudity, sexuality, and an intense action sequence. Running time: 139 minutes. Distributor: Paramount Pictures.