Flight (2012 film)
|Directed by||Robert Zemeckis|
|Written by||John Gatins|
|Edited by||Jeremiah O'Driscoll|
|Music by||Alan Silvestri|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||US$161.8 million|
Flight is a 2012 American drama film directed by Robert Zemeckis, written by John Gatins and produced by Walter F. Parkes, Laurie MacDonald, Steve Starkey, Zemeckis and Jack Rapke. It stars Denzel Washington as William "Whip" Whitaker Sr., an alcoholic airline pilot who miraculously crash-lands his plane after a mechanical failure, saving nearly everyone on board. Immediately following the crash, he is hailed a hero but an investigation soon leads to questions that cast the captain in a different light. The film is loosely inspired by the plane crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261.
It received generally positive reviews from critics, with praise going to Zemeckis' direction and Washington's performance, Gatins' screenplay and themes. It was also a commercial success, grossing US$161.8 million against its US$31 million production budget. Flight was the first live-action film directed by Zemeckis since Cast Away and What Lies Beneath in 2000, and his first R-rated film since Used Cars in 1980.
The film appeared on multiple critics' year-end top ten lists and received multiple accolades and nominations from various organizations, including two nominations for Best Actor (Washington) and Best Original Screenplay (Gatins) at the 85th Academy Awards.
Airline pilot Captain Whip Whitaker uses cocaine to stay alert after a sleepless night in his Orlando hotel room. He pilots SouthJet Flight 227 to Atlanta, which experiences severe turbulence at takeoff. Co-pilot Ken Evans takes over while Whip discreetly mixes vodka in his orange juice and takes a nap. He is jolted awake as the plane goes into a steep dive. Unable to regain control, Whip is forced to make a controlled crash landing in an open field, hitting his head and losing consciousness on impact.
Whip awakens in an Atlanta hospital with moderate injuries and is greeted by his old friend Charlie Anderson, who represents the airline's pilots union. He tells Whip that he managed to save 96 out of 102, losing two crew members and four passengers, but mentions his co-pilot is in a coma. Whip sneaks away for a cigarette and meets Nicole Maggen, a heroin addict recovering from a recent overdose in the same hospital. The next morning, his friend and drug dealer Harling Mays picks him up from the hospital.
Having retired to his late father's farm, Whip meets Charlie and attorney Hugh Lang, who explain that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) performed a drug test while he was unconscious. Results showed that Whip was intoxicated during the flight. Hugh promises to get the toxicology report voided on technical grounds and succeeds. Whip visits and soon becomes intimate with Nicole but Whip's drinking habits clash with Nicole's attempts to stay drug-free. Later, he attends a funeral for Katerina, a flight attendant who died in the crash, and with whom Whip had spent the night before the incident. He sees a surviving crew member, Margaret, and asks her to tell the NTSB that he was sober.
Whip pays a visit to his co-pilot Ken Evans after he awakens from his coma. Evans has likely lost much of his ability to walk and may never pilot an airplane again. Although upset, Evans has no intention of telling the NTSB that Whip was drinking. Nicole decides to separate from Whip after he fails to stay sober. Hounding him, the media catches Whip drunk after he spontaneously drives to the home of his ex-wife and son, both of whom resent him. He stays with Charlie until the NTSB hearing, vowing not to drink. The night before the hearing, Charlie and Hugh move Whip to a guarded hotel room with no alcohol. Although his minibar is empty, he finds the door to an adjacent room unlocked and raids the minibar there.
Whip is discovered by Charlie the next morning, passed out and still drunk. Harling is called to revive him with cocaine. At the hearing, lead NTSB investigator Ellen Block explains that a damaged elevator assembly jackscrew was the primary cause of the crash. She commends Whip on his valor and skill, noting that no other pilot was able to land the plane in trial simulations of the crash. She then reveals that two empty vodka bottles were found in the plane's trash, despite beverages not being served to passengers, and that Whip's blood test was excluded for technical reasons. She then states the only other member of the crew to test positive for alcohol was Katerina. Whip pauses, unable to bring himself to blame Katerina for his actions. He collects himself and comes clean, admitting to being intoxicated the day of the crash; he also admits to currently being drunk. A tearful Whip finally admits to having a problem, coming to terms with his alcoholism.
Thirteen months later, an imprisoned Whip lecturing a support group of fellow inmates says he is glad to be sober and doesn't regret doing the right thing. Whip is seen looking at pictures of Nicole, family and friends on the wall of his cell, along with greeting cards congratulating him on his first anniversary of being sober. He is working to rebuild his relationship with his son, who visits to speak with him about a college application essay he's working on. It's about "the most fascinating person that I've never met". His son begins by asking, "Who are you?" As a plane flies overhead, Whip replies, "That's a good question."
- Denzel Washington as Whip Whitaker
- Don Cheadle as Hugh Lang
- Kelly Reilly as Nicole
- Bruce Greenwood as Charlie Anderson
- John Goodman as Harling Mays
- Melissa Leo as Ellen Block
- Tamara Tunie as Margaret Thomason
- Nadine Velazquez as Katerina Marquez
- Brian Geraghty as Ken Evans
- Peter Gerety as Avington Carr
- Garcelle Beauvais as Deana Coleman
- Boni Yanagisawa as Camelia Satou
- Justin Martin as Will
- James Badge Dale as Gaunt Young Man
- Piers Morgan as Himself
- E. Roger Mitchell as Craig Matson
- Sarah Clark as Radio Talk Show Host (voice)
- Vinnie Hasson as Radio Talk Show Host (voice)
- Randy Thom as Radio Stock Market Reporter (voice)
- Dennis P. Wise as Air Traffic Controller (voice)
- Paul Volle as Air Traffic Controller (voice)
- Hal Williams as Whip's Dad (voice)
- Kwesi Boakye as Young Will (voice)
Zemeckis entered negotiations to direct Flight in April 2011, and by early June had accepted, with Denzel Washington about to finalize his own deal. It was the first time that Zemeckis and Washington had worked together on a motion picture.
By mid-September 2011, Kelly Reilly was in negotiations to play the female lead, with Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood, and John Goodman joining later in the month, and Melissa Leo and James Badge Dale in final negotiations. Screenwriter John Gatins said in early October 2011 that production would begin mid-month. Flight was largely filmed on location near Atlanta, Georgia over 45 days in November 2011. The film was produced with a relatively small budget of $31 million, which Zemeckis calculated to be his smallest in inflation-adjusted dollars since 1980, made possible because of tax rebates from Georgia and because Zemeckis and Washington waived their customary fees.
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, which was caused by a broken jackscrew. In that incident, an ungreased jackscrew came loose and caused a catastrophic failure from which recovery was impossible, though pilot Ted Thompson and first officer Bill Tansky were able to fly the plane inverted in the last moments of the flight. Among the captain's last words on the CVR were:
Okay we are inverted... Now we got to get it... Are we flying? We're flying... We're flying... Tell them what we're doing. At least upside down we're flying."
The Alaska Airlines 261 crash had no survivors. The airplane in Flight, a two-engine T-tail jet airliner, appears to be from the same model family as was the plane involved in the Alaska Airlines 261 disaster, a variant of the MD-80. Many elements from the accident were used in the film, such as the cause of the accident, segments of the radio communication, and the inversion of the airplane.
Scroggins Aviation Mockup & Effects was hired to supply three decommissioned MD-80 series aircraft that represented the plane in the film, with additional MD-80-series aircraft used for scenes in the cabin and cockpit.
Flight opened in 1,884 theaters across the US and Canada on November 2, 2012. In its first week, the film ranked second in the American box office, grossing US$24,900,566 with an average of US$13,217 per theater. Flight earned US$93,772,375 in the US and an additional US$68,000,000 in other countries for a total of US$161,772,375, well above its US$31 million production budget.
Flight received mostly positive reviews, and has an approval rating of 78% based on a sample of 236 critics on Rotten Tomatoes, with a weighted average of 6.90/10. 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. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A-" on an A+ to F scale.
Washington's performance received praise. 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". Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four 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". Ebert went on to name the film the sixth best of 2012. Although the film was not nominated for Best Picture, he later noted that 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".
The film received some criticism from pilots who questioned its realism, particularly the premise of a pilot being able to continue flying with a significant substance-abuse problem. The Air Line Pilots' Association 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". Airline pilot Patrick Smith 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". 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.
Top ten lists
- 3rd – Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer
- 3rd – Rafer Guzmán, Newsday
- 6th – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
- 7th – Richard Roeper, RichardRoeper.com
- 7th – Kyle Smith, New York Post
- 8th – Brian Tallerico, Hollywood Chicago
- 9th – Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
- 9th – Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
Awards and nominations
- McCarthy, Todd (October 15, 2012). "Flight: New York Film Festival Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved October 24, 2012.
- Horn, John (October 20, 2012). "How the movie 'Flight' got off the ground". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 4, 2012.
- "Flight". Box Office Mojo. Box Office Mojo.
- Kit, Borys (April 20, 2011). "Robert Zemeckis in Talks for Live-Action 'Flight' With Denzel Washington Circling". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved October 20, 2012.
- Zeitchik, Steven (June 3, 2011). "Robert Zemeckis finally looks to take 'Flight'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 20, 2012.
- White, James (September 13, 2011). "Kelly Reilly Takes Flight". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved October 20, 2012.
- Morris, Clint (September 22, 2011). "Exclusive: Cheadle, Greenwood join Zemeckis's Flight". Moviehole.com. Archived from the original on February 23, 2014. Retrieved October 20, 2012.
- Fleming, Mike (September 28, 2011). "John Goodman Boards Robert Zemeckis' Flight With Denzel Washington". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved October 20, 2012.
- Kit, Borys (September 30, 2011). "Melissa Leo, James Badge Dale Booking 'Flight' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved October 20, 2012.
- Warner, Kara (October 5, 2011). "Denzel Washington's "Flight" Is 12 Years In The Making". MTV. Retrieved November 7, 2011.
- Horn, John (21 October 2012). "How the movie 'Flight' became airborne". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 28 October 2012. Retrieved 23 October 2012.
- "Aircraft Accident Report, Loss of Control and Impact with Pacific Ocean Alaska Airlines Flight 261 McDonnell Douglas MD-83, N963AS About 2.7 Miles [4.3 km] North of Anacapa Island, California, January 31, 2000" (PDF). National Transportation Safety Board. December 30, 2002. NTSB/AAR-02/01. Retrieved September 9, 2016.
- Flight used a former American Airlines MD-82, N442AA, the main fuselage for the crash mock-up, a more complete nose for filming, and a former Delta Air Lines MD-88, N901DL, and for on stage work, a former Continental Airlines MD-82, N16807. "'Flight' the Movie". Airliner World Magazine. No. April 2013.
- "Filming Hollywood's Flights of Fantasy, by Christine Negroni". Airways. January 7, 2013 – via Airways Magazine.
- Flight at Rotten Tomatoes Fandango
- "Flight". Metacritic. CBS.
- "Home". CinemaScore. Retrieved 2022-02-28.
- Ebert, Roger. "Roger Ebert Flight review". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2 December 2012.
- Ebert, Roger. "Ebert's Top Movies of 2012". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on January 17, 2013. Retrieved August 20, 2013.
- "The Must List". Entertainment Weekly. New York. February 8, 2013. p. 8.
- Smith, Patrick (November 18, 2012). "Real Pilots Laugh at 'Flight'". The Daily Beast. Archived from the original on November 27, 2012. Retrieved November 26, 2012.
- ALPA News Release. Alpa.org (October 31, 2012). Retrieved July 13, 2013.
- Real Pilots Laugh At ‘Flight’. The Daily Beast (November 18, 2012). Retrieved July 13, 2013.