In Flight, high-functioning alcoholic and cocaine addicted pilot Whip Whitaker (played by Denzel Washington) saves 96 people from certain death after their plane malfunctions – but six people die.
Rather than a story of Whip’s heroic effort, however, this is a film about his unfortunate addiction and the people who try to help him, yet fail miserably.
This also is a film about the lengths that God will go to get our attention and save us from ourselves.
TAKING IT ON FAITH
Screenwriter John Gatins’ script is chock full of all of the ways that God tries to get Whip to slow down and take stock of his life – which he refuses to do. Whip is content to continue despite being under a microscope for his drinking and drug use and possibly facing jail time for being drunk and high on the job.
Gatins taps into Whip’s addiction and shows how, after the loss of six lives, Whip can still drink a bottle or two of vodka with several beer chasers, then finish it off with a few hits of cocaine.
Most of us can easily say that he should just go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and quit. But Flight, like life, is not that simple. It takes owning up to one’s addiction to actually begin the road to healing. Gatins takes Whip on a turbulent journey so that he can do just that.
Despite the imagery of naked women and a porn scene, director Robert Zemeckis makes sure his audience knows this is a faith-based film. There are images of Christian values, such as the praying hands of Christ tattooed on a porn star’s chest and hung up on Whip’s wall. There’s the make-or-break scene in which Whip is faced with a dilemma that helps him define his addiction: Should he drink the stolen vodka, or walk away?
Washington’s performance as Whip is classic Denzel. He makes you hate, then love, then pity Whip in his stages of decline. Whip isn’t a Boy Scout. He isn’t a good father. And he’s constantly telling a lie about his addiction. But he has a moral center that has managed to stay intact despite being soaked in vodka. He’s also an awesome pilot who saved 96 lives.
This kind of complex character doesn’t come very often and when it does, not just anyone can portray him. It takes an actor like Washington to bring such a character to fruition so that, in the end, the audience will root for him and not against him.
Don Cheadle as Hugh Lang, Whip’s lawyer, is essentially playing his character on the Showtime series House of Lies; only we like Hugh, a little.
Hugh is the kind of lawyer who gets criminals acquitted based on technicalities and perceived mistakes on the part of the investigators. He’s slimy enough to help the guilty, but only represents the criminals he believes to be innocent, such as Whip.
John Goodman as Whip’s good friend and dealer Harlan Mays is obviously enjoying himself as an actor of advanced years. There are things that only actors of a certain age can get away with, such as being the man who feeds an addiction and then makes sure he gets his payment. Harlan is the guy who’s your friend and therapist who genuinely cares about your well-being while giving you substances that can kill you.
Nevertheless, Goodman is stepping into his own with unconventional roles while audiences are having a good time watching him work.
Flight attempts to show that Whip is a man broken, just like the plane crash he survived. It also conveys the message that God will stop at nothing to get one’s attention so that He can fix you.
These themes are not new concepts in filmmaking, but refreshing to watch. Any story that puts a face and a name to the true nature of addiction and God’s pure love for us – no matter how dirty our souls – is a winner.