Flight (2012 film)

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Flight film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Produced by Laurie MacDonald
Walter F. Parkes
Jack Rapke
Steve Starkey
Robert Zemeckis
Written by John Gatins
Starring Denzel Washington
Don Cheadle
Kelly Reilly
John Goodman
Bruce Greenwood
Melissa Leo
Music by Alan Silvestri
Cinematography Don Burgess
Edited by Jeremiah O'Driscoll
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • October 14, 2012 (2012-10-14) (New York Film Festival)
  • November 2, 2012 (2012-11-02) (United States)
Running time 138 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $31 million[2]
Box office $161,772,375[3]

Flight is a 2012 American drama film directed by Robert Zemeckis. The film stars Denzel Washington as Whip Whitaker, an airline pilot who miraculously crash lands his plane after it suffers an in-flight mechanical failure, saving nearly everyone on board. Immediately following the crash, he's hailed a hero, but an investigation soon leads to questions that puts the captain in a different light.

Flight was the first live-action film directed by Robert Zemeckis since Cast Away and What Lies Beneath, both released in 2000, and his first R-rated film since Used Cars in 1980. It was a box office success grossing over $160 million worldwide and received mostly positive reviews. The film was nominated twice at the 85th Academy Awards for Best Actor (Denzel Washington) and Best Original Screenplay (John Gatins).


Airline captain Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) awakens in his Orlando hotel room with flight attendant Katerina "Trina" Márquez (Nadine Velazquez) after a night of sex, drinking, drug use, and very little sleep. After using cocaine to wake up, he boards SouthJet Flight 227 as pilot to Atlanta. After Whip threads the plane through severe turbulence at takeoff, copilot Ken Evans (Brian Geraghty) takes over while Whip discreetly mixes vodka in his orange juice and takes a nap. He is jolted awake as the plane begins an uncommanded descent and the aircraft goes into a steep dive. Unable to regain pitch control, Whip evenly issues instructions to Ken and lead flight attendant Margaret Thomason (Tamara Tunie) as he rolls the plane upside down to arrest the dive and achieve stable flight. While this is happening in the cockpit, a child passenger falls from his seat, so Trina leaves her seat to help him.

Meanwhile, a woman named Nicole Maggen (Kelly Reilly) visits her drug dealer, begging for some heroin. She is told that it is very strong Afghan heroin and is told only to smoke it and use some cocaine to pick her up if she takes too strong a dose. When she returns home she finds her door unlocked and enters to find her landlord. She tricks him and locks him out, knocking over her box of drug paraphernalia. Seeing her syringe and becoming tempted, she injects the heroin and rapidly passes out. As she is wheeled out of the house by a paramedic, the upside down SouthJet flies overhead.

On the plane, the engines fail and Whip realizes they will not make it to a runway. He rolls the plane upright, and makes a controlled, unpowered crash landing in an open field in Clayton County, Georgia, but not before the right wing grazes and destroys the tip of a church building. Whip loses consciousness on impact, and is dragged out of the burning aircraft by a passenger.

Whip awakens in an Atlanta hospital with moderate injuries and is greeted by his old friend Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood), who represents the airline's pilots union. He tells Whip that he saved 96 out of 102 people on board, losing two crew and four passengers. A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) official informs him Trina was among those killed, thrown against the wall in the landing before she could regain her seat. While sneaking a cigarette in the stairwell, Whip meets Nicole, who is recovering from her heroin overdose and promises to visit her when they leave the hospital. In the morning, his friend and drug dealer, Harling Mays (John Goodman), picks him up and sneaks him away from the hospital.

Whip drives to his late father's farm and dumps out all his alcohol and drugs. When he meets Charlie and attorney Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle), they explain that the NTSB performed a drug test while he was unconscious showing that Whip was intoxicated during the flight. The results could send him to prison on alcohol, drug, and manslaughter charges. Hugh promises to get the toxicology report voided on technical grounds, but Whip leaves in a fury, picks up vodka and beer, and seeks out Nicole.

He finds Nicole bailing on her lease, bribes her landlord not to pursue her, and brings her to the farm. Nicole and Whip soon become intimate, but Whip's drinking clashes with Nicole trying to stay clean and sober. Whip attends Trina's funeral, where he encounters Margaret. Whip persuades her to tell the NTSB that he was sober on the day of the crash.

Nicole brings him to a recovery meeting. Whip leaves mid-way through the meeting and goes to a bar, where he learns via the news that co-pilot Ken Evans has come out of his induced coma, though remains severely injured. He goes to visit him. Evans tells Whip that both his legs and pelvis are crushed, and he has little-to-no chance of walking unaided and no chance of ever flying a plane again. Whip is sympathetic towards Evans' injuries. Evans explains how he knew Whip was drunk, that he could smell the gin and vodka on Whip; however, Evans believes all people were put on Earth for a reason, and since Whip's hasn't come as yet, Evans will not tell the NTSB about Whip being drunk.

Later that night, Whip gets drunk, and does cocaine to sober up. Then he services his father's plane and offers Nicole to elope with him to Jamaica. Overnight, she walks out on him, leaving a note for him while he sleeps. Whip goes into a rage, and destroys some of his belongings.

Whip finds the media outside his farm's gate and drives drunk to the home of his ex-wife and son, who compel him to leave. In leaving his ex-wife's home, he is mobbed by the press, and does not answer questions well. Whip flees to Charlie's home and begs to stay with Charlie's family, vowing not to drink again before the NTSB hearing, a promise he manages to keep. The night before the hearing, Whip is moved into a guarded hotel room to ensure he does not get drunk. His minibar has only nonalcoholic beverages, but when he finds the door to the adjacent room unlocked, Whip discovers it has a full minibar.

Charlie and Hugh find him the next morning, passed out, and heavily intoxicated. They call Harling, who revives him with cocaine for the hearing. At the hearing, Ellen Block (Melissa Leo), the lead NTSB investigator, explains that a damaged elevator assembly jackscrew was the primary cause of the crash. She commends Whip on his valor and skill, explaining that no other pilots were able to land the plane in simulations of the crash.

Then she reveals that two empty vodka bottles were found in the trash of the plane, but none were served to the passengers. Only one of the crew's toxicology reports was positive for alcohol, although one was excluded. Since Katerina's report was positive for alcohol, Block asks Whip if he believes that she drank it. Rather than lie and permanently taint Trina's good name, Whip admits that he drank it, that he flew intoxicated, and that he is intoxicated at that moment.

Thirteen months later, an imprisoned Whip tells a support group of fellow inmates that he is glad to be sober and does not regret doing the right thing, because he finally feels "free". He tells the support group he lost his piloting license, but not his faith in telling the truth. He has pictures of Nicole and other family and friends on the wall of his cell, along with greeting cards congratulating him on being sober for a year. He is working to rebuild his relationship with his son, who visits to talk with him about a college application essay on "the most fascinating person that I've never met." His son begins by asking, "Who are you?" Whip replies, "That's a good question."


Denzel Washington and Kelly Reilly in Paris at the film's French premiere, January 2013.


Robert Zemeckis entered negotiations to direct in April 2011,[4] and by early June had accepted, with Denzel Washington about to finalize his own deal.[5] It marked the first time Zemeckis and Washington worked together on a motion picture.

By mid-September 2011, Kelly Reilly was in negotiations to play the female lead,[6] with Don Cheadle,[7] Bruce Greenwood,[7] and John Goodman[8] joining later in the month, and Melissa Leo and James Badge Dale in final negotiations.[9] Screenwriter John Gatins said in early October 2011 that production would begin mid-month.[10] Flight was largely filmed on location near Atlanta, Georgia, over 45 days in November 2011.[11] The film's relatively small budget of $31 million, which Zemeckis later calculated was his smallest budget in inflation-adjusted dollars since 1980, was due to tax rebates from Georgia and from Zemeckis and Washington having waived their customary fees.[11]

Gatins explained in a 2012 interview with the Los Angeles Times that the dramatic fictional crash depicted in Flight was "loosely inspired" by the 2000 crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261,[11] which was caused by a broken jackscrew. That crash had no survivors. The airplane in Flight, a two-engine T-tail jet airliner, appears to be from the same model family as Alaska Airlines 261, a variant of the MD-80. Many elements are lifted from the accident into the film, such as the cause of the accident, segments of the radio communication and the decision to invert the airplane.

Flight reunites Washington with many co-stars from his past films including Don Cheadle (Devil in a Blue Dress), John Goodman (Fallen), and Bruce Greenwood (Déjà Vu).



Flight opened in 1,884 theaters across North America on November 2, 2012. In its first week, the film ranked second in the domestic box office grossing $24,900,566 with an average of $13,217 per theater. Flight earned $93,772,375 domestically and $68,000,000 internationally for a total of $161,772,375, well above its $31 million production budget.[12]

Critical response[edit]

Flight received mostly positive reviews from critics. The film has an approval rating of 78% based on a sample of 219 critics on Rotten Tomatoes.[13] The site’s consensus states "Robert Zemeckis makes a triumphant return to live-action cinema with Flight, a thoughtful and provocative character study propelled by a compelling performance from Denzel Washington." Metacritic gives the film a weighted average score of 76 out of 100 based on reviews from 40 critics.[14]

Denzel Washington's performance received praise from various critics. The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy wrote that the film "provides Denzel Washington with one of his meatiest, most complex roles, and he flies with it."[1] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four stars (out of four) writing, "Flight segues into a brave and tortured performance by Denzel Washington—one of his very best. Not often does a movie character make such a harrowing personal journey that keeps us in deep sympathy all of the way." He also noted the plane's upside-down flight scene was "one of the most terrifying flight scenes I've ever witnessed" and called the film "nearly flawless".[15] Ebert went on to name the film the sixth best of 2012.[16] Although the film was not nominated for Best Picture, he later noted that he felt it deserved to be. Entertainment Weekly wrote, "Denzel Washington didn't get an Oscar nod for nothing: His performance as an alcoholic airline pilot ensnared by his own heroics is crash-and-burn epic."[17]

The film received some criticism from airline pilots who questioned the film's realism, particularly the premise of a pilot being able to continue flying with a significant substance-abuse problem.[18] The Air Line Pilots' Association in an official press release dismissed the film as an inaccurate portrayal of an air crew and stated that "we all enjoy being entertained, but a thrilling tale should not be mistaken for the true story of extraordinary safety and professionalism among airline pilots."[19] An airline pilot also commented that "a real-life Whitaker wouldn't survive two minutes at an airline, and all commercial pilots—including, if not especially, those who've dealt with drug or alcohol addiction—should feel slandered by his ugly caricature."[20] The pilot also criticised the portrayal of the relationship between copilot and captain, the decision of Whitaker to increase speed dangerously in a storm and the ultimate dive and crash landing of Whitaker's aircraft.[20]

Awards and nominations[edit]

List of awards and nominations
Award Category Subject Result
Academy Award Best Writing, Original Screenplay John Gatins Nominated
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role Denzel Washington Nominated
AACTA Awards Best International Actor Denzel Washington Nominated
Art Directors Guild Award Excellence in Production Design for a Contemporary Film Nelson Coates Nominated
Black Reel Award Best Film Flight Nominated
Best Actor Denzel Washington Won
Best Supporting Actress Tamara Tunie Nominated
Best Ensemble The Cast of Flight Nominated
Broadcast Film Critics Association Award Best Actor Denzel Washington Nominated
Best Original Screenplay John Gatins Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Award Best Actor Denzel Washington Nominated
Chicago International Film Festival Founder's Award Robert Zemeckis Won
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Award Best Actor Denzel Washington Nominated
Golden Globe Award Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama Denzel Washington Nominated
Hollywood Film Festival Spotlight Award Kelly Reilly Won
NAACP Image Award Outstanding Motion Picture Flight Nominated
Outstanding Actor Denzel Washington Won
Outstanding Supporting Actor Don Cheadle Nominated
Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture John Gatins Nominated
National Board of Review Spotlight Award John Goodman, also for Argo, ParaNorman, and Trouble with the Curve Won
Online Film Critics Society Award Best Actor Denzel Washington Nominated
Palm Springs International Film Festival Award Director of the Year Robert Zemeckis Won
Satellite Award Best Actor – Motion Picture Denzel Washington Nominated
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture John Goodman Nominated
Best Screenplay, Original John Gatins Nominated
Best Visual Effects Jim Gibbs, Kevin Baillie, Michael Lantieri and Ryan Tudhope Won
Best Editing Jeremiah O'Driscoll Nominated
Best Sound (Editing & Mixing) Dennis Leonard, Dennis Sands, Randy Thom and William Kaplan Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Award Outstanding Lead Actor Denzel Washington Nominated
St. Louis Gateway Film Critics Association Best Actor Denzel Washington Nominated
Best Scene (favorite movie scene or sequence) The plane crash Nominated
Visual Effects Society Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Feature Motion Picture Nominated
Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Award Best Actor Denzel Washington Nominated
Writers Guild of America Award Best Original Screenplay John Gatins Nominated


  1. ^ a b McCarthy, Todd (October 15, 2012). "Flight: New York Film Festival Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved October 24, 2012. 
  2. ^ Horn, John (October 20, 2012). "How the movie 'Flight' got off the ground". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 4, 2012. 
  3. ^ Flight at Box Office Mojo
  4. ^ Kit, Borys (April 20, 2011). "Robert Zemeckis in Talks for Live-Action 'Flight' With Denzel Washington Circling". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved October 20, 2012. 
  5. ^ Zeitchik, Steven (June 3, 2011). "Robert Zemeckis finally looks to take 'Flight'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 20, 2012. 
  6. ^ White, James (September 13, 2011). "Kelly Reilly Takes Flight". Deadline.com. Retrieved October 20, 2012. 
  7. ^ a b Morris, Clint (September 22, 2011). "Exclusive : Cheadle, Greenwood join Zemeckis’s Flight". Moviehole.com. Retrieved October 20, 2012. 
  8. ^ Fleming, Mike (September 28, 2011). "John Goodman Boards Robert Zemeckis' Flight With Denzel Washington". Deadline.com. Retrieved October 20, 2012. 
  9. ^ Kit, Borys (September 30, 2011). "Melissa Leo, James Badge Dale Booking 'Flight' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved October 20, 2012. 
  10. ^ Warner, Kara (October 5, 2011). "Denzel Washington's "Flight" Is 12 Years In The Making". MTV. Retrieved November 7, 2011. 
  11. ^ a b c Horn, John (21 October 2012). "How the movie 'Flight' became airborne". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 23 October 2012. 
  12. ^ http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=flight.htm
  13. ^ Flight at Rotten Tomatoes Flixster
  14. ^ "Flight". Metacritic. CBS. 
  15. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Roger Ebert Flight review". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2 December 2012. 
  16. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Ebert's Top Movies of 2012". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved August 20, 2013. 
  17. ^ Entertainment Weekly Staff (February 8, 2013). "The Must List". Entertainment Weekly (New York: Time Inc.): 8. 
  18. ^ Smith, Patrick (November 18, 2012). "Real Pilots Laugh at 'Flight'". The Daily Beast. Archived from the original on November 26, 2012. Retrieved November 26, 2012. 
  19. ^ ALPA News Release. Alpa.org (2012-10-31). Retrieved on 2013-07-13.
  20. ^ a b Real Pilots Laugh At ‘Flight’. The Daily Beast (2012-11-18). Retrieved on 2013-07-13.

External links[edit]