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Washington propels ‘Flight’ to thrilling heights

Robert Zemeckis’ Flight takes off to a spectacular start, with veteran actor Denzel Washington at the film’s helm as William “Whip” Whitaker, a skilled airplane pilot navigating a world of moral complexity and corruption.

The film’s scandalously raw opening scene, in which Whip wakes up beside a naked stewardess and snorts a line of cocaine after a night of sex and drunken revelry in his motel room, promises an unconventional drama-suspense film. And for at least the first third of the film, this promise is fulfilled with gripping action sequences and bravura acting.

In the first and strongest section of the movie, a highly intoxicated and cocaine-affected Whip must answer the call to action when mechanical failures threaten to crash his plane and exact a substantial death toll. In an astonishing stunt that’s just a hair’s breadth short of a miracle, the voracious pilot manages to save all but six lives aboard the carrier.

The film’s first 40 minutes or so are captivating, not only because of thrilling action sequences but also because of the moral dilemmas in which Whip becomes entangled. Should Whip be charged with six counts of manslaughter because he was intoxicated while operating the aircraft? Or should he be considered a hero for saving 96 lives out of the 102 passengers onboard through his skillful and levelheaded maneuvering of the doomed plane? These are fascinating questions to explore — and yet after these tantalizing tidbits are dangled before the viewer, the film takes a nosedive into repetitiveness.

The rest of the movie focuses mainly on Whip’s alcoholism and the trial examining the causes behind the initial plane crash. This latter portion of the film sacrifices the depth and excitement of the first 40 minutes for trite commentaries on morality, the law and addiction as Washington’s character struggles to overcome his dependence on drugs, only to repeatedly fall back into his bad habits. Perhaps as a result of insufficient knowledge and insight on the part of the scriptwriter or director, the film’s take on addiction feels shallow.

Despite some frustratingly repetitive and strangely dull scenes, Washington’s performance soars with the sort of integrity and nuance we’ve come to expect from this master actor, whose versatility and dynamic presence never fail to impress. Washington’s intensity during the plane crash sequence proves riveting, and when the film begins to falter, his star power still makes the movie watchable if not terribly interesting. Washington’s acting talents could have been put to much better use had the script and plot been more complex and striking in later parts of the film.

I just wish the spectacular beginning’s momentum was sustained throughout the rest of the movie. Flight is still worthy of a look-see, however, for the eye-candy at the beginning of the film and the clinging-to-the-edge-of-your-seat action the plane crash scene provides.

Without that momentum the film flew to great heights in the beginning, but fell flat toward the middle and end. A worthwhile watch, but not something that will knock you out of your seat.


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