Stars Denzel Washington as Whip Whittaker, an airline pilot who is a druggie and a drunkard. He drinks on his plane which will crash due to mechanical failure. He flips the plane over and lands it with only six fatalities out of one hundred and two on board. He recuperates in hospital and meets Kelly Reilly a drug user. Don Cheadle plays the lawyer who deals with the potentially damaging toxicology finding. The drug taker is now his girlfriend and he has a stormy relationship with his ex-wife and kid. He is up before a hearing. Will he speak the truth about his alcoholism thus saving the reputation of an alcoholic (deceased colleague)? Will he be prosecuted?
The Leslie Nielsen Airplane comedy films were hilarious and when Whittaker turns the plane upside down I couldn’t help laughing. I’m not sure if this manoeuvre can be done, but when the pilot is Denzel Washington then anything is possible. The air crash starts at the beginning of the film so Whittaker has to prepare for the hearing and it’s here that eventually he has to achieve some sort of redemption. I think the film is about loss of control: Whittaker’s self justification runs away from his conscience as he tries to solicit the good opinions of his colleagues, Whittaker’s inebriation spins out of control like the engine failure that caused the crash. John Goodman plays his drug guru who uses cocaine to cure Whittaker of a hangover (to the music of Sympathy for the Devil) so out of control drug taking overtakes alcohol. Whittaker meets Kelly Reilly in hospital, a drug user who herself is on a crazy spiral of addiction. Don Cheadle plays his lawyer who is prepared to lie and cheat to clear Whittaker of responsibility on manslaughter charges, so lawyerish shysterism spins out of control from the need to speak the truth. Whittaker’s union rep wants to maintain good relations with the airline company so he’s got no integrity based control. The company boss is unaccountable. Ironically, the one person who is most in control is a cancer patient whom Whittaker meets at the hospital. This guy uses dark humour to reconcile himself to his impending death. There is no one to blame and it’s accepted as an act of God. Whittaker himself is not directly to blame for the crash and everyone passes the buck. In this respect the out of control plane is a fitting metaphor for the main characters. Once in prison, Whittaker says he is free since he accepts his responsibility and in good psychobabble style he achieves a sort of closure (if not forgiveness) from colleagues and passengers His co-pilot absolves him and accepts the accident as an act of God. The film deals with these issues in a lively style and Washington is good as the sot who confuses being forgiven with self redemption. Naturally, he’s a failed father who achieves some sort of reconciliation with his son. Cheadle is good as the oleaginous lawyer who wouldn’t be out of place at the foul end of an argument in a John Grisham courtroom drama. The title is pleasingly ambiguous, is it the flight of a plane or the flight from self? Watchable, even though it’s a confessional heading into a brick wall .