His latest film, Flight, is the story of a hard drinking pilot who saves most of the lives on a flight he pilots. The catch is that he is drunk and on drugs while doing it. What to do in such a case? Is he a hero or is he a monster?
Washington makes his character more than either of those things, he makes him a man. His Whip Whitaker isn’t a good man but rather one who is out of control, who has a side that seems to care—for his son, for people he meets but then? When push comes to shove? A bottle matters more. He isn’t evil, he isn’t a caricature but rather a flawed man lost in a nightmare of his own creation. You will literally squirm as his character makes certain decisions in the film.
The supporting cast includes Bruce Greenwood, John Goodman and Don Cheadle (as well as Kelly Reilly, Tamara Tunie and Nadine Velasquez). This is a pretty good group of supporting actors to have surrounding Washington. He doesn’t need to carry this film on his back. Cheadle is Whitaker’s attorney—as interested in pushing liability away from the airline as in saving Whitaker. Greenwood is an old friend and fellow pilot whose affection for Whitaker is balanced by his knowledge of his old friend’s demons. No scenery chewing from any of these actors. The characters they bring to life here seem quite real and have complicated motivations. Every single character has to make decisions about Whitaker and what he means in their lives.
Is Flight a ground breaking film? Probably not but it is a professionally done film that stays consistent within itself—and where everyone on screen is believable. It doesn’t really do a great deal that hasn’t been dealt with in other films about substance abuse. It really brings no deep insight into how lawyers, pilots and airlines behave after a crash. It is not a film that should be mentioned as one of the best of the year but not every film has to be that. It is, in a way, a film about ethics and about choices as much as it is about drug abuse and plane crashes. It puts you in a place where you have to wonder what you might do, faced with personal ruin.
Would you do the right thing? Or just the right thing for you?