We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
After opening with one of the most terrifying flying scenes I've witnessed, in which an airplane is saved by being flown upside down, Robert Zemeckis' "Flight" segues into a brave and tortured performance by Denzel Washington — one of his very best. Not often does a movie character make such a harrowing personal journey that keeps us in deep sympathy all of the way.
Washington plays Whip Whitaker, a veteran commercial airlines pilot who over the years has built up a shaky tolerance for quantities of alcohol and cocaine that would be lethal for most people. At the film opens, he's finishing an all-night party with a friendly flight attendant named Katerina (Nadine Velazquez) and jolts himself back into action with two lines of cocaine. His co-pilot (Brian Geraghty) eyes him suspiciously, but Whip projects poise and authority from behind his dark aviator glasses.
Their flight takes off in a disturbing rainstorm and encounters the kind of turbulence that has the co-pilot crying out, "Oh, Lord!" But Whip powers them at high speed into an area of clear sky, before a mechanical malfunction sends the aircraft into an uncontrollable nosedive. Zemeckis and his team portray the terror in the cabin in stomach-churning style. Acting on instinct, seeming cool as ice, the veteran pilot inverts the plane to halt its descent, and it flies level upside-down until he rights it again to glide into a level crash-landing in an open field.
The field, as it happens, is next to a little church, and the way Zemeckis portrays an outdoor baptism on the ground below captures the hyper-realism with which I imagine we notice things when we think we're about to die. Only six people do die in the crash, and Whittaker is hailed as a hero.