Saturday, November 3, 2012

“Flight”: If You’ve Ever Fought Addiction

The title of this movie has a double meaning. As a veteran commercial airlines pilot, Denzel Washington is in full flight from reality, hiding from himself and his long list of shortcomings inside a fog of addiction. A family film “Flight” is not. Don’t take junior. Leave grandma at home. But if you’re an open-minded adult and especially if a family member or friend has ever been plagued by drugs or alcohol, see this new drama by director Robert Zemeckis (“Forrest Gump”).

About that R rating: “Flight” has it all. From an opening nude scene in pilot Whip Whitaker’s bedroom to a porn movie studio with raunchy talk and behavior to the tenement where a female heroine addict shoots up and nearly ODs, there are plenty of ways this movie might not have been made when I first was old enough for R-rated fare in the late 1960s. But then the subject matter isn’t for kids anyway, nor will it please them.

With his drinking, Whip has trashed his marriage and alientated his teenage son. Now he flies planes loaded with hundreds of “souls” (the official term) while loaded himself with morning lines of cocaine that jolt him to consciousness after nightly alcoholic binges. The guy’s both a train wreck and a first-class pilot, who keeps his plane from crashing after a mechanical failure pushes him into a nosedive. In a scene you may want to pass on if you’re the slightest bit timid about flying, Whip has to perform unlikely aerobatics to save all but six of the souls entrusted to his care.

A post-flight toxicology test puts the pilot’s blood alcohol level at .24. As attorney Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle) notes incredulously, that’s three times the level that would put a man in jail in many states if he were driving and crashed an automobile! How Whip faces down or up to the charges brought against him, with the loving aid of Kelly Reilly as a recovering heroine addict, is the question “Flight” takes its sweet time answering.

I’m on a brief vacation, which has made this a sort of mini-movie-weekend. After suffering through the inane contradictions of “Looper” Thursday evening—the strangest darn mix of time travel, creepy telekinesis, splatter, and “family warmth”—I was much more satisfied watching “Flight” on Friday, for all its little sins, and even if the message sometimes hit close to the bone. Even more than addiction, the theme of “Flight” is lying to yourself, and we’ve all done that.

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