Flight to addiction with Denzel Washington
December 14, 2012
A few days ago, my wife and I saw Flight, the new Denzel Washington movie in which he plays airline pilot Whip Whitaker whose heroic maneuvers salvage most of his passengers’ lives from certain death when the plane experiences a mechanical failure at 30,000 feet.
The ensuing investigation, however, reveals that Whitaker had in his system at the time of the crash a potent cocktail made of three times the legal limit of alcohol chased with cocaine.
Let me say right off the bat that Flight rates as one of the greatest movies I have ever seen, bar none. It is virtuoso story telling presented to us by a remarkable ensemble of fine actors. There is not a weak spot to be found, and some of the vignettes are pure genius.
This is not stuff for the faint of heart, those who ignore the epidemic of addiction that afflicts American society. Flight offers no easy solutions. Captain Whitaker believes he can beat his alcoholism while at the same time he drinks himself into a stupor every night and rises to spike his orange juice with vodka for breakfast.
In the hospital after the crash, Whitaker has a chance encounter with a young woman we have met earlier in the film, a woman who descended into mainlining heroin and barely survived her last overdose. She and Whip find each other in the stairwell, the only place in the hospital they can take a smoke. While they are chit-chatting, a third patient comes up the stairs from the basement. Cancer has almost had its way with him. There on the landing between the hospital floors, the three of them, each having felt the tightening grip of death in the last few hours, share a few minutes of banter. They talk not about the weather, but about the twisted ways of God, the fatal flaws of people, the idiocy of trying to plumb the meaning of life.
I know this sounds like heavy stuff. It is. But it is shown so beautifully, with such deep care for the worth of each character, that you find yourself caught up in the power of the film.
John Goodman’s portrayal as Whitaker’s cocaine dealer alone is worth the price of admission.
The film also portrays Whitaker’s legal entanglements with realism, so that we see the behind-the-scenes maneuverings of a high stakes case. A case that can ruin the airline and send Whitaker to prison for a long time.
I find myself comparing Flight to the 1995 movie Leaving Las Vegas, for which Nicolas Cage won an Academy Award for best actor. Neither film pulls any punches when it comes to addiction, but Flight leaves the cell door cracked open just a hair, maybe just wide enough for a person to force his way through on his hands and knees.
Flight is a must see movie, adult fare, a stunning piece of work.
(Stephen Woodfin is an attorney and author of legal thrillers.)