Denzel Washington delivers an award worthy performance as airline pilot Whip Whitaker, a man who has somehow managed to keep his job while nursing both an alcohol and cocaine addiction. But one fateful day his drug dependencies are revealed after, through no apparent fault on his part, the plane he’s flying suffers a major malfunction and nose-dives toward the ground. His younger Christian and sober co-pilot (Brian Geraghty) panics while the drugged up captain coolly performs a literal death-defying maneuver and lands the plane in a field. The somewhat explicit crash leaves a half-dozen people dead, but the vast majority of passengers survive and hail Whip a hero.
A few days later, after Whip has partially recovered from his injuries, he is faced with the facts. The NTSB investigation has revealed the alcohol and drugs in the pilot’s bloodstream and now Whip is facing possible manslaughter charges for the deaths caused by the accident. Initially still denying the charges, even to his own appointed lawyer (Don Cheadle), we begin to see the depth of addiction this man has succumb to.
It’s a testament to Washington’s acting abilities that it is so painful to watch his character throughout this movie. Periods of brief sobriety are short lived and even after his hotshot lawyer manages to get him off the hook, he is still bound by his uncontrollable urge to drink. It certainly is an accurate depiction of an alcoholic who is nowhere near “Step 1” of any recover program.
Perhaps the biggest surprise about Flight is the focus on substance abuse as opposed to the crash itself, and that’s probably wise considering there is far more fiction than fact in this script based on an actual event. (The original pilot served jail time for drug trafficking nearly two decades prior to his heroic crash avoidance, and he was not under the influence of chemicals during the incident.) However while the script goes to great lengths to show the destruction caused by Whip’s behavior there is a sense he was reasonably competent in spite of his intoxication, perhaps even implying that had he not been stoned when the plane tilted out of control he would not have been able to pull of the heroic landing. This could leave viewers, both old and young, with the opposite message this movie appears to be suggesting.
Related to this concern are scenes that show Whip using cocaine to quickly recover from the intoxicating effects of alcohol—both prior to flying the plane and appearing at an important investigatory hearing. This unintended lesson on the benefits of snorting after boozing is another potentially dangerous element. Other content issues include full female nudity during the first few minutes of the film and dozens of sexual expletives, some sexual comments, a multitude of scatological slang and other profanities, terms of deity and derogatory statements heard throughout.
In the end we see hope for Washington’s high-flying character, however this artistically capable film risks taking viewers down a runway paved mostly with good intentions.
Content Details: Beyond the Movie Ratings...
Violence: A plane crash is shown in somewhat explicit detail, including a flight attendant who getting her foot caught in an overhead bin, hits her head, loses consciousness and is tossed around the cabin. Later people, both dead and alive, are seen with bloody injuries. Earlier a plane flies through intense turbulence causing a passenger to vomit and others to become very concerned. A woman’s landlord makes sexual suggestions toward her after he enters her apartment looking for overdue rent. Later her landlord threatens her with a baseball bat until aanother man appears and punches the landlord. Injured patients are seen in a hospital setting. Frequent verbal altercations occur.
Sexual Content: An unmarried man and woman are seen waking up in bed together, the woman gets up and while completely naked wanders about the room until eventually getting dressed. A man’s buttocks are exposed in his hospital gown. Men are seen naked from the rear during a scene that appears to be on the movie set of a pornography production. An unmarried couple live together. A man is provided with a stack of pornographic magazines from a friend and a comment alluding to masturbation is made.
Language: Dozens of sexual expletives, scatological terms, crude anatomical terms, religious expletives and derogatory names are heard throughout the film.
Alcohol/Drug Use: Alcohol use is depicted throughout the film, mainly by a character that denies he is an alcoholic. This same character and two other others are seen snorting cocaine. A woman prepares a needle and injects heroin. Addiction recovery meetings are shown, and one character begins the recovery process. Another character eventually admits to being an alcoholic. A secondary character with cancer gathers with others to smokes tobacco in a hospital stairwell; when a person provides him with a full pack of cigarettes he says he will pass them out in the cancer ward. Cigarette smoking is depicted in other scenes. While negative consequences for substance abuse are included, some scenes are shown in a somewhat comedic light, and other scenes may unintentionally encourage abuse.
Discussion Ideas: Talk About the Movie...
The argument for more lenient drug and alcohol laws sometimes uses the logic that it only harms those who use these substances. What effects of drug and alcohol use do we see in this movie? How does it involve others who are not users? What are the economic costs of drug and alcohol use? How much money would you be willing to pay to support drug and alcohol screening of airline pilots and people whose jobs may have life or death consequences?
This movie is loosely based on the story of a Canadian pilot who successful landed an Airbus 330 that had run out of fuel during the flight. You can learn more about Captain Robert Piche here:
Other movies depicting terrifying air travel rides include Flightplan (where a mother loses her daughter onboard the aircraft) and Flight of the Phoenix (when a crash in the dessert necessitates teamwork to rebuild the plane).
Home Video Notes
Home Video Notes: Flight
Release Date: 5 February 2013
Flight release to home video in either Blu-ray or DVD.
Flight on Blu-ray includes:
- Feature film in high definition
- Origins of Flight
- The Making of Flight
- Anatomy of a Plane Crash
- Q&A Highlights
Flighton DVD offers:
- Feature film in standard definition