1 Star — Troubling

The strength of the denial when we are addicted often means that we lose marriages, families, jobs and health before we admit that we have a problem. This descent into darkness far removed from the party promised us if we use drugs is graphically presented in Robert Zemeckis’ film Flight.

Written by John Gatins, this extraordinary story presents addiction in explicit R-rated detail and depressing reality.

The central character is Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington). Whitaker is an experienced commercial pilot whose knowledge and skill as an aviator are matched only by his addiction to alcohol. When his night of revelry makes him unable to fly, he jolts himself back to reality by taking a snort of cocaine. This is what happened the morning of the fateful flight based on a true incident that changed maintenance practices throughout the industry.

Through no fault of his own, Whitaker’s plane sheared a bolt that had worn down due to overuse, which put his plane into an unstoppable dive. Creatively realizing that he could not stop the plunge through the usual methods, he inverted the plane and flew it upside down until he could glide to a safe field and land with only minimal loss of life. But in the hospital, blood drawn showed him to be flying under the influence of alcohol and cocaine. It is this reality around which the tale then spins.

Supported by his union, Whitaker is joined by longtime friend Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood) and their lawyer, Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle), in his criminal defense. They assist him by getting his friend/dealer Harling Mays (John Goodman) to give him a hit of cocaine so he can testify while drunk.

The co-pilot, Ken Evans (Brian Geraghty), is presented as an uptight religious fanatic who covers for Whitaker out of a sense of God’s leading, although he knows Whitaker to have been impaired. The caricatured dialogue written for the characters of Evans and his wife demonstrate disrespect for Christians specifically and a misunderstanding of people of faith in general.

We won’t spoil the tale by saying how the trial ends; however, the journey Whitaker takes reveals that even when his greatest love — not of his wife or son, but of flying — is at risk, he cannot keep from drinking. The grip this addiction has on his life is devastating. That is a message that is true but troubling to all.


» It is difficult to imagine that a person would choose an addiction over their beloved spouse or children, yet that is what addiction and its deceptive process of denial do to us. Have you ever lost something or someone precious to you because of an addiction? How did you get free?

» The desire of people to help Whitaker cover up his drug and alcohol use would have meant he would keep flying. Do you think it was moral for his lawyer to try to get him off? What would you do?

» The implication could be taken from the film that it was Whitaker’s altered state rather than years of experience that caused him to invert the plane and save the lives of his passengers. Do you think that was the message the filmmakers were making? Why do you answer as you do?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.