Robert Zemekis' Flight stars Denzel Washington as an alcoholic, drug-abusing commercial airline pilot. While Washington plumbs the depths of his deeply-flawed character, the movie places all the blame of a catastrophic crash on him.
In the film's first scene Whip Whitaker (Washington) shares a joint with a girlfriend and snorts coke. On little or no sleep he heads to work, ready to navigate a jumbo jet at 35,000 feet. He slips two small bottles of vodka into his morning OJ and takes off. It's a rocky ascent, but once he and his co-pilot emerge from a wall of clouds into clear blue sky, Whip takes a nap. He's awakened by a malfunction which sends the plane into a nose dive. Whip manages to guide the plane to a very rough landing in a field. Out of 104 people on board, just six die. Whip's viewed as a hero until the toxicology report comes back showing he was intoxicated.
At first Whip disposes all the alcohol stashed around his house. But that doesn't last and soon he's consuming prodigious quantities again. Whip contends the plane was "broke," which caused the crash, but deep down he also knows he may very well be the reason six people died and dozens more were injured.
We never find out what went wrong with the plane. The night before a federal hearing, Whip gets wasted. With the help of his gonzo BFF Harlin (played with Big Lebowski-style relish by John Goodman), Whip has a cocaine pick-me-up in the morning, barely steadying himself for a difficult interrogation during which he breaks down and admits to his crime and is sentenced to a jail term
Washington's Whip Whitaker is no different than many other screen drunks we've seen in the past, from Jack Lemmon's Joe Clay in Days of Wine and Roses to Nicholas Cage's Ben Sanderson in Leaving Las Vegas (which he won an Oscar for in 1996). Each are stubborn men who must comes to grips with the pain they've caused others and finally achieve some sort of redemption. Rather than continue lying, Whip finally tells the truth in the most Hollywood of situations - on the witness stand. It's a predictable denouement, deflating the movie's previous two hours.
Nominated for an Academy Award, Washington didn't win. Whip is too much of a downer.