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Review: 'Flight'

Denzel Washington soars in an Oscar-worthy tour de force.

 

It’s sad, but true that we take certain Hollywood actors for granted, especially those who’ve “been around the block” a few times. Denzel Washington need not fear this neglect any more.

In Flight, Washington turns in an Oscar-worthy performance that will surely have him walking the red-carpet next February. It’s always wonderful to see an actor play against type, shed vanity and let it all hang out; the good, the bad and the ugly.  

Flight is one of the movies playing this week at Regency Agoura Stadium 8 Cinemas.

Who can forget such stellar performances as Elizabeth Taylor’s blousy, brassy Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf or Paul Newman in The Verdict, Shirley Jones’ Oscar-winning turn in Elmer Gantry?  The list is long and notable.

We first see Whip Whitaker, a commercial airline captain, in bed covered by a sheet after a long night binging of alcohol and other substances with his gorgeous and curvaceous girlfriend. Whip has clearly not seen the inside of a gym in some years; he is saggy, baggy and dissipated, and even his eyelids seem to groan and strain under the effort of keeping his eyes open.   

A wake-up call summons Whip to his scheduled flight. A couple of lines of coke (not the fizzy kind) get him going. Settling into the cockpit for take-off on a rainy, stormy day, he soon confronts one of the more horrific plane malfunctions in recent filmdom. Think of the Tom Hanks film Cast Away, but with passengers, and you’ll be prepared. 

I’m not being a spoiler by revealing that Whip manages to land the plane after an in-air maneuver that you’ll have to see to believe. The real meat of the film is what comes in the aftermath.

The old joke goes that “denial” is a river in Egypt but in Whip’s case the level is revved up exponentially beyond the breaking point. He’s a user of not just alcohol and drugs but as we come to realize, of people, and survives living the lie that he can stop at any time and still function in a career that demands sobriety.

Director Robert Zemeckis (who directed Cast Away, too) working from a brilliant screenplay by John Gatins, does not waste a shot in unfolding this top-notch adventure/morality story of a life teetering on the brink of self-destruction, both mentally and physically.

Despite some fatalities and his own injuries, Whip becomes an instant media “hero,” reminiscent of the Captain “Sully” Sullenberger who similarly landed his plane in the Hudson River a few years ago.

Things soon go terribly wrong when Whip’s blood tests reveal the presence of alcohol and cocaine. Trying to salvage the situation, the National Transportation Safety Board hires an attorney, Hugh Land (a wonderfully nuanced Don Cheadle) to spin the ugly facts of Whip’s addiction and expunge the tests from the official investigation.  

The story takes an unfortunate turn with a distracting story involving a heroin addict, Nicole (Kelly Reilly) that Whip becomes involved with, but she is necessary to push the plot towards the highly melodramatic resolution of the story.

John Goodman is hilarious as a hipster/cowboy drug dealer who, with a few lines of his product, manages to sober Whip up for his hearing before the committee investigating the crash.

Washington really shines here as he slowly, painfully and courageously owns up to his past and accepts responsibility for his life. 

Jeff Klayman is an award-winning playwright whose works have been produced in New York, Los Angeles and London. He also wrote the screenplay for the independent film Adios, Ernesto, directed by Mervyn Willis.

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