Friday, November 2, 2012

Flight [2012]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O)  Roger Ebert (4 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review
Roger Ebert's review

Flight (directed by Robert Zemekis and written by John Gatins) surprises.  While Parents _please note_ that this film is definitely deserves its R-rating (definitely _not_ for your little kids and can't think of a reason why a high school aged teen under 17 would "need" to see this film) IMHO it makes for a _very interesting_ adult parable about God's will and our participation, both chosen and unchosen, in it.

The film's about an arrogant, supremely competent (and hard drinking/hard partying...) middle-aged commercial airline pilot named "Whip" Whitaker (played masterfully by Denzel Washington).  The opening scene has the 6:30 or is it 7 AM alarm go off at his Orlando area hotel suite, bottles and drugs strewn around, still similarly buzzed/hung-over flight attendant Katerina Marquez (played by Nadine Velazquez) lying at his side.  They have a 9 AM flight to get to ...

No problem, she showers, puts on her clothes, he does a line or two of coke and ... in the next scene, there's Captain Whitaker in a trench coat with "appropriate"/studied seriousness/"sobriety" doing his pre-flight ground inspection of the plane (in a driving rain).  And when he enters the cabin, Katerina's there, smiling, welcoming him on board: "Hello Captain..."  The chief flight attendant, Margaret Thomason (played by Tamara Tunie), like Whitaker, also middle aged, and who it becomes clear as the film progresses has known Whitaker for some time (and yet is also a good "chat buddy" with Katerina) clearly knows what's been going on between "Whip" and Katerina, but just slightly rolls her eyes and continues on with the "professional tasks" at hand (as do the others ...).

Whitaker's co-pilot, Ken Evans (played by Brian Geraghty), is much younger and "greener" than he is.  They appear to meet on this flight for the first time.  It's clear that Ken isn't much impressed and may even be frightened by Whitaker.  We find out more about his impressions later in the story.  Yet even at this first glance, it's fairly clear that Ken would have probably preferred to be flying with (and really flying "under") just about anybody else.  But ... we all know that often "we don't get to choose who we fly with ..." (both literally and symbolically).

The plane takes off from Orlando in a driving rainstorm.  Whitaker does some rather unorthodox flying to get them out of the storm and into a patch of calmer air.  Throughout the flight, it was fascinating to me how Whitaker disdained, even _hated_ "autopilot" (and convention in general ...) preferring, even _insisting_ to fly the plane, "his plane" manually.

Once out of the storm's way the flight continues normally toward its destination, Atlanta, a little less than an hour's flight time away.  THEN some minutes prior to beginning normal descent SOMETHING TERRIFYING goes wrong with the plane.  A loud thud is heard, suddenly the plane's controls seem severely damaged and the plane goes into an increasingly steep dive.

Anyone who's seen the advertisements to the film will know that WHITAKER miraculously is able to bring the plane down safely -- into an open field -- with minimal loss of life.  Only six people died on the plane, four passengers and two flight attendants (with a MINIMAL SPOILER ALERT one of them being Katerina).  Captain Whitaker's a hero.  But it's also clear that he had been drinking.  Blood tests taken during his time in the hospital make it clear that he had a 0.24% blood alcohol level in his blood stream at the time when the samples were taken and that he also had traces of cocaine in his blood stream.  To give one perspective as the Pilots' Union lawyer (played by Don Cheadle) points out to Whitaker, having a 0.08% alcohol level would convict one of drunk driving of an automobile in the States and here he was flying a plane with over 120 people on board with a level of 0.24%.  Finally, it's clear that from a strictly causal point of view, his toxicology readings at the time of the accident HAD ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO with the cause of the plane's catastrophic failure.  Indeed, his "unorthodox", arguably "beyond good and evil" GOD-LIKE disdain for conventions/rules SAVED all but those six victims on that plane.  With this in mind, the rest of the film unspools giving viewers _much_ to think about:

(1) Can a "miracle" be performed by someone patently unworthy of performing it?

(2) What the heck is God's will in an event such as this?  Even in this "miracle," where 115 or so "souls" were saved from death by Whitaker, 6 people died and many others were injured.  The far more God fearing co-pilot tells Whitaker (after the copilot had recovered from his coma) that his legs were crushed, that he'll probably never walk again and that he'll certainly never fly again.  And yet he had absolutely no doubt that it was God's will that Whitaker DRUNK AS HE CLEARLY WAS was on that plane and saved him/the other others from death on that day.

(3) Can even a "miracle worker" _earn_ his salvation?  Yes, Whitaker was a hero / "miracle worker" but the fact remained that he was a mess ...


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1 comment:

  1. In a career filled with brilliant and diverse roles, Denzel Washington as veteran airline pilot Whip Whitaker has executed perhaps his best performance in a career filled with best performances. He’s played every part with passion, from the monstrous crooked cop in Training Day to the compassionate U.S. Navy physician treating a troubled and angry sailor in Antwone Fisher. The 2012 film Flight is nearly off the charts in both its excitement as well as its morality-play story line that causes us to think and ask questions. This is a story with one very defective and severely malfunctioning hero who will pay a huge price for his weakness.

    I thought the addition of the Fundamentalist co-pilot and his wife was a good touch. They cause you to question even the best intentions of this story. It’s to the screen writer John Gatins’ and director Robert Zemeckis’ great credit that even these flawed people get a bit of sympathy because they raise valid points. Indeed, they are the straws that stir the brew and cause the viewer great frustration. She is the rigid Evangelical or Opus Dei-style Roman Catholic (She kisses her Cross or Crucifix) who gives God the credit for the lives saved. But, does He get the blame for the six deaths? We only know that she does not question her own beliefs. She gives Whip no credit for her husband’s still-beating heart.

    Simple wraps that attempt to tie a piece together in the last five minutes normally serve to trivialize an otherwise good story; however, it works in this case, perhaps because it paints a picture of the etiology, density and nuance of a lifetime of pain. You also see the price of redemption and freedom, and it truly echoes long after the closing credits have rolled out beyond our view.

    It’s impossible to close without giving praise to Tamara Tunie as Margaret, who has known Whip and his flaws for 11 years. As both flight attendant and true friend she is real, and her work highly credible. Melissa Leo never acts. She becomes her character, and she shines as the National Transportation Safety Board lawyer who is both empathetic and highly skilled. Kelly Reilly is powerful as the abused and brittle substance abuser who is on a day-to-day mission to stay sober. She has some purpose in life, that being to help Whip who is actually seeking a co-dependent.

    Father, you’ve added a fine set of questions at the end of your review. Thank you for that.