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Flight (Blu-ray Review)

8 Feb, 2013 By: John Latchem

Box Office $93.65 million
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for drug and alcohol abuse, language, sexuality/nudity and an intense action sequence.
Stars Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood, John Goodman, Melissa Leo, Brian Geraghty.

Millions of Americans climb aboard airplanes every day, putting their lives in the hands of countless unseen pilots and technicians without giving it a second thought. The premise of Flight turns on the notion that airline personnel have to deal with the same problems as everyone else, which may be disconcerting to consider when you are relying on them to do their job.

The film introduces what must be a typical day for Capt. William “Whip” Whitaker (Denzel Washington), enjoying a dalliance with one of his flight attendants, drowning the sorrows of his marriage in booze and snorting coke for a boost of energy before piloting a commercial airliner on a jaunt from Orlando, Fla., to Atlanta, Ga.

Things seem to be going fine until Whip’s controls fail and the plane goes into a nosedive. In the harrowing sequence that follows, Whip manages to level off the plane by inverting it, and then gliding it into an open field, where only six of the 102 passengers on board are killed. Whip is considered a hero for getting the plane on the ground with minimal loss of life, and it looks as if mechanical failure caused the crash. But toxicology reports show Whip was high and drunk, calling into question his ability to fly even as it becomes clear that any other pilot would have crashed the plane and killed everyone on board.

What follows is a compelling character study about Whip struggling to reconcile his inner demons with his public face, grounded in complexity by Washington’s brilliant performance and the steady direction of Robert Zemekis, his first live-action film since 2000’s Cast Away (after spending the interim years making motion-capture CG-animated movies).

We as an audience understand that this man should never have been flying that plane in the first place, but the movie starts making a dubious case that Whip performs better under the influence, which heightened his creativity and instincts that allowed him to get that plane down.

There are a few hints of doubt that make you wonder how much his intoxication affected those final moments when the plane actually crashes, and there’s a line that implies that if the plane been tilted a few degrees the other way, no one might have died. Was that too a function of his intoxication?

Flight is always playing within the margins of legal ethics. Like in the way the NTSB investigator (Melissa Leo) is barred from using Whip’s toxicology report due to lawyerly technicalities, but then spends a hearing about the crash using every trick to imply what the report said, even after acknowledging the crash was due to a mechanical problem and that Whip’s skills as a pilot seem to be unique.

That leaves a hard question for the audience as to how much the viewer is inclined to root for Whip. The movie presents him in the protagonist role, but it’s not so simple, and a key scene involves how much Whip is willing to lie to clear his name if it means tarnishing the legacy of his dead colleagues. We could be rooting for him to get off completely, or to clean his life up, which may be mutually exclusive prospects. The result is riveting.

The Blu-ray includes four featurettes, each about 10 to 15 minutes in length, which combined are sufficient in providing enough background information about the film to satisfy most viewers. “Origins of Flight” deals with what inspired John Gatins to write the screenplay (which was subsequently nominated for an Academy Award), and how the other the filmmakers rallied to the project. “The Making of Flight” is a short piece about the production itself, while “Anatomy of a Plane Crash” reveals the various visual effects techniques and stunt work used to film the crash scene. Finally, the disc includes footage from a Q&A involving the cast and crew, minus Denzel.

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