Denzel Washington Gives Oscar-worthy Performance in 'Flight'

WI Assistant Editor | 11/7/2012, 2:51 p.m.

The term daemonic genius calculates personal frailty with a peculiar ability to exhibit extraordinary wisdom and acts with unfailing valor in the face of danger. Academy Award winner, Denzel Washington exemplifies daemonic genius as Whip Whitaker, a seasoned airline pilot, who miraculously crash lands a commercial flight after a mid-air catastrophe. Though he saves most passengers aboard the doomed flight, Whip is confronted with a firestorm of both accolades and accusations about his role in the accident after his toxicology report tests positive for alcohol.

In this manner, the film Flight is less about a plane crash than it is the nosedive Whip's life takes when confronted with the ferocious alcoholism that has bankrupted his life. What audiences witness after the first thirty minutes of the film is an emotional, often painful glimpse, of functional alcoholism and how long-term addicts learn to mask their addictions through lies and fabrication. Viewers want Whip to win; he is after all, likeable, charismatic, handsome, and extremely skilled. He has kept an airplane from slamming headfirst into the neighborhoods below it by flipping the craft upside down to regain stabilization. Unfortunately, he is also troubled, arrogant, and unpredictable. Washington sticks this role masterfully, and gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Whip Whitaker.

Director Robert Zemeckis, (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, and Cast Away), said he was attracted to the film because of its abstruse characters and the script's treatment of human nature.

"What I was attracted to with Flight was that this was like the morally ambiguous movies that I loved coming up in the 70s. I thought it was just great -- I loved the fact that all of the characters are so complex, especially Denzel's character. And then everything, and everybody, is this shade of gray, and this ambiguous, "What's really going on here?" It kind of reminded me of real life," Zemeckis said.

Indeed, Whip is perhaps the most conflicted and multifarious screen character since Dustin Hoffman's Benjamin Braddock (The Graduate, 1967). For Washington, who admits there were some difficult scenes to tackle, the challenge was to approach the film as a quest.

"This was an adventure -- first of all, starting with the screenplay in collaboration with the filmmaker, getting the chance to fly around in these MD-80 flight simulators, hanging upside down in a plane, and playing a drunk. I'm not going to say it was easy. Maybe a painful scene - I don't know if it's painful - but this scene when I go to my ex-wife's house and get into this wrestling match with my son. You know, I've gotten into wrestling matches with my son in not quite the same circumstance, but it's just raw. Your nerves are raw. So that sticks out," Washington said.

Celebrated actor Don Cheadle (A Lesson before Dying, Ocean's Eleven, and Hotel Rwanda) and Washington pair up for the first time since the 1995 Carl Franklin film, Devil in a Blue Dress. As the staunch-collared attorney Hugh Lang, Cheadle is a far cry from the character "Mouse" in Devil, but similarly plays off of an on-screen balancing act as straight man to Washington's renegade. Cheadle is clever and believable as the cocky, but equally frustrated Lang and plays well against both Washington and Bruce Greenwood (who portrays Whip's friend and airline union representative).