Right off the bat I have to say that the airplane crash that opens this movie is the best depiction of terror in the air that I have ever seen. And one of the best terror scenes of any kind. It’s probably because few of us have ever dangled over a pit of crocodiles or been in a big car chase with bullets flying, but we’ve all been on an airliner … except those who are so terrified of living a scene like this that they won’t even board. We’ve been there when things are calm and normal, and most likely we’ve been on a bumpy flight, even if only for a few moments. Terror is always only seconds away. Things happen fast when they go wrong.
But the movie is not about the crash, as such, not about the investigation, either. “Flight” is a perfect title here, because it refers not only to flying, but to the flight from reality of an alcoholic in deep denial. Denzel Washington has never been better (and has he ever been bad? I don’t think so) as the man who manages to pull a plane out of a dive that would certainly have been fatal to all 102 souls aboard, and crash-land it in a field. Ninety-six lives are saved … but six people die, and as someone puts it, “Someone must pay.” This is a litigious age. A good candidate for taking the blame is Denzel, who was drunk as a skunk on alcohol, and stoned on cocaine and marijuana. Sort of the perfect storm of intoxicants.
And here’s the dilemma. That he should never have been flying that day is beyond dispute. But … they put ten great pilots in simulators and replicated the circumstances. How many landed the plane? None. No one. Beyond question that plane would have impacted nose first and they would be picking up bodies with cotton swabs, like Flight 93 on 9/11.
Now, I’m no pilot, I don’t know if inverting the plane—the tower asks, incredulously, “did you say inverted?”—was the only possibly way to save it, but it seems plausible to me. The plane was going down not because Denzel was a bad pilot, he was a fucking genius, but because the airline chose to fly it with a faulty stabilizer. No question about that. So you have to ask yourself, Why the fuck are the families of those six dead people and their lawyers entitled to come down on his head? Why not the pig who owns the airline?
Answer: In this day and age, when someone dies, someone must pay. I am just as sympathetic to the families of the 9/11 dead as anyone, but no one ever explained to me why they were entitled to millions in compensation from whoever it was that paid it. Was it because it happened on television? That’s a big part of it. The thing is, I don’t think anyone really did anything wrong that day, going by the standards that prevailed on 9/10. Not the airlines, who were not required to keep all sharp objects off planes, not the manufacturers—if anything, Boeing’s planes flew better than they could have been expected to, given that they were being flown by idiots who didn’t know that an airliner was not supposed to be able to stay in the thick air at 500 knots and 500 feet. Not the city, not the builders and owners of the Towers, not even the FBI and CIA and all those other intelligence agencies. I just don’t see what they did wrong, given that no one really imagined that anyone would ever have been as stupid and dedicated as those 19 monsters. Sure, in hindsight we know we missed some signals, but could anyone have been reasonably expected to have seen them? I doubt it. But reasonable doesn’t enter into it these days. We paid the families, just as we would pay the relatives of people on a plane shot down by a North Korean missile. It makes no sense to me.
But I digressed. It’s just that this situation invites you to think about things like that. Denzel did everything right, no one else was likely to have figured out what he did and pulled it off. But the movie is not about that. It’s about his denial, his alcoholism, and what he’s going to do about it, and it is very good from that perspective. I wanted to see more of the 96 survivors and how they must have wanted to kneel down and kiss his feet, like they did with Sully Sullenberger after he set that damn thing down in the Hudson. But because Denzel is fleeing from the press, we really can’t see that, can we?
I thought the ending was just about right. The only thing that didn’t really ring true in the whole movie was one scene. As the plane was going down, Denzel had a stewardess kneeling before the throttles, ready to pour on the gas when he told her to. In the middle of all that chaos, he asks her what her son’s name is. She tells him. He says “I want you to tell him you love him. For the black box.” He is far from sure they’re going to make it. (His POS co-pilot is pissing his pants, all but hysterical.) Later, everyone’s safe, he meets her at the funeral of one of the flight crew. Um, gee, he sort of asks, could you, could you sort of not mention that I stank of gin when I boarded? Could you do that? And she is hugely morally conflicted. Let me get this straight. He saved your life, he even took time to think of your son without a mother … and you’re conflicted? Damn, girl, I would have said “Just what do you want me to say, Captain? Write it down, I’ll memorize it, and I’ll stick with my story until the day I die. I’ll go to jail if necessary. And by the way, I will owe you everything for the rest of my life.”