Sometimes a movie’s marketing doesn’t do it justice. “Flight” is a good example.
Watching the trailers and ads for it makes it seem like the movie is about a plane crash and how a brave pilot saved the passengers.
But the crash is really only the vehicle to tell the story. To use an old storytelling term, it is the MacGuffin: something that puts the plot in motion and then fades into the background.
The story is about Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington), a commercial airline pilot. Whip has a huge problem: He is an alcoholic.
Whip drinks just to function. He is shown in the course of the flight mixing orange juice with vodka, then heartily drinking it down.
But Whip is an accomplished pilot. He is a high-functioning drunk. And when his plane goes into a terminal dive, it is Whip who guides the plane to the ground.
But it’s only after he awakens in the hospital that things really start happening. A union rep and friend (Bruce Greenwood) is in the room. He tells Whip that what happened was nothing short of a miracle.
But after Whip is released for minor injuries, he is contacted by an attorney (Don Cheadle), who tells Whip that he had alcohol in his system. Whip denies drinking. He reports that the night before he just had some wine.
This sets in motion Whip believing he has to stop drinking. He goes to his home and removes all the alcohol in the house. And there is lots of it. But Whip cannot help himself, for when the stress is hardest, he drinks the most.
The powers that be around him want to just get him through the show of the National Transportation Safety Board hearing. They just want him to appear upright for that one day. That is all they want from him; then he can go off and be the drunk that he is.
“Flight” is one of the most God-filled movies I have seen in years. God should be a member of the cast. Everywhere one looks you see God’s presence.
The attorney works hard to get the toxicology report about Whip thrown out. Then he works just as hard to get the NTSB to add “act of God” to the list of possibilities for the crash.
A chance meeting with a cancer patient in the stairwell brings God into the story again. The patient says he believes in God because that means God does everything. Because God does everything, he can blame God for it all. He has cancer, and God did it.
But let me say that what makes this movie so wonderful is Denzel Washington’s performance. He is one of our finest actors. He is at the top of his game and fully in control of his acting prowess.
For most actors, a role like this is a career-making turn. For Washington, it is another addition to an unbelievable resume. If he is not nominated for best actor, it will be a shame.
A word of caution: With all this talk about God and fine performances, please know that this movie is rated R, and it is a “hard R.”
By that I mean it is an unflinching look into the life of a person who will do or say anything to keep on doing what he does (in this case, drinking).
That said, if you can get through the life story of this man, what happens is an act of God. Therefore, God holds up his end of the bargain and makes himself real in a life that needs it.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: R for drug and alcohol abuse, language, sexuality/nudity and an intense action sequence.
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writer: John Gatins
Cast: Denzel Washington: Whip Whitaker; Bruce Greenwood: Charlie Anderson; Don Cheadle: Hugh Lang; John Goodman: Harling Mays; Kelly Reilly: Nicole.
The movie’s website is here.