It's a nail biting opening that will shock all your senses: a forty-something pilot, Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington), rubs sleep from his eyes, takes a swig of alcohol, smokes a joint prepared by his naked bed mate, snorts the white powder before slipping on his pilot uniform and jauntily heading off to work. Inside the cockpit he is cool as a cucumber and sanctimonious with his co-pilot. But things go haywire when a regular hop from Miami to Atlanta goes hay wire.
After a mind-numbing turbulence, the plane comes down a Georgia corn field with one wing sheared to pieces, four people dead and 96 others scared and scarred for life. As Whitaker's composure saves a bigger damage; he is quickly hailed as a hero. But we soon learn that he is a hero with feet of clay. As investigations proceed, we are sucked into Whitaker's life.
He is divorced, estranged from his teenage son, convinced of his own superiority, incapable of confronting his own weakness and more importantly, his own addiction to alcohol and drugs.
Recovering from the crash injuries in the hospital, Whitaker forms a friendship with a photographer (Kelly Reily), a recovering alcoholic. She soon moves in with him and takes him to an AA meeting where he remains in denial and walks out.
The airline pilots' union representative (Bruce Greenwood) is a former naval colleague who wants to protect his old friend as well as defend his profession's reputation. A criminal lawyer (Don Cheadle) is brought in from Chicago, and he perceives his duty towards his client as discrediting the tests that establish the damning alcohol and drug tests. He also takes on the task of getting "act of God" considered as one of the causes of the disaster. The head of the conglomerate who owns the airline has other interests to protect and wants the blame to be attributed to the plane's manufacturers.
As the blame game continues; Whitaker oscillates between arrogant swagger, self-pity and his destructive addiction. The penultimate day comes when the inquiry instituted by the National Transport Safety Board convenes to put Whip on trial. Will he continue with his farce or will he have the humility to take the blame for disaster?
Flight starts with a thrilling, confronting beginning only to become moralistic and sentimental—a classic case of starting with a bang ending with a whimper. While Robert Zemeckis (Polar Express, Beowulf) direction doesn't pack the necessary punch; Washington's effortless acting and a dynamite opening still makes Flight watchable and slightly enjoyable.