A selection of small servings of alcoholic beverages, flavored vodkas maybe or micro brewed beers, is called a Flight. That’s something to keep in mind as you watch the new movie of the same name, staring Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman and Don Cheadle. And I say this because if you think this is a movie about the other kind of flight, the kind that takes us from place to place safely through the air in relative comfort, you’d be wrong, wrong, wrong.
Nora Marshall, steeped in aviation since her early days as a flight attendant through her 28 year career as an air safety investigator, put it simply, Flight is a “great movie about addiction and with outstanding acting” she told me in an email, but “not a movie that anyone with airline and/or accident investigative experience can take seriously.”
Denzel Washington is his amazing self, believable in a pilot’s uniform though I sincerely hope his middle-aged spread was added to make him look more like an authentic pilot, rather than a sign that this beautiful human being is getting plump! The crash scenes are harrowing and mostly realistic – even Nora, who was chief of human performance and survival factors at the National Transportation Safety Board admits that.
Earlier this year I wrote several stories about how Flight and other aviation-related dramas are made. One article appears in the current issue of Airways. So knowing how important it was to the filmmaker, instrument-rated private pilot, Robert Zemeckis to create visual realism, it was striking how little attention was paid to keeping the crash investigation accurate.
Washington, as Capt. Whip Whitaker is an alcoholic airline pilot who saves the day and most of the passengers on his flight when his plane loses elevator control, a’la Alaska Airlines Flight 261. He flies the airplane upside down until he finds a field for his crash landing. Hence, he is a hero. And then it becomes clear the airman is a substance abuser.
To Whitaker, the fact that his pilot skills saved lives is all that counts, an all-too-common attitude that posits, outcome is evidence of correct actions. Not.
The unbelievable section really gets going when Capt. Whitaker meets his lawyer, Cheadle, who also represents the pilots’ union and the airline. Conflict of interest much?
Incredulity continues when everyone else associated with the accident is interviewed by the NTSB except for the man who was flying left seat. Capt. Whitaker is holed up in his late-papa’s cabin drinking truly preposterous amounts of alcohol and tinkering with daddy’s crop duster in the barn.
I knew we were in a uncontrolled dive when Whitaker learns that his lawyer’s fancy footwork has resulted in the NTSB’s disregarding the pilot’s blood alcohol level samples and convinced them to include “acts of God” as a contributing factor. “Acts of God?” Shut up! At this point I inadvertently laughed out loud, causing my usually indulgent husband to tell me to “shut up”.
On the plus side, the captain does have moments in which he does the right thing – for the right reasons. The film pays tribute to the real life safety advocate presently in command of the NTSB, Deb Hersman (played by Melissa Leo) and one only wishes there were more characters in real life as funny as the hysterically wacky John Goodman.
Still, after spending two hours on the journey I left the theater knowing I’d been flying someplace between real and ridiculous. Not a flight actually, but an assorted sampling of flavors that didn’t add up to much.
Author of The New York Times bestseller, The Crash Detectives, I am also a journalist, public speaker and broadcaster specializing in aviation and travel.