Denzel Takes Flight

  • E-Mail this Article
  • View Printable Article
  • Text size:

    • A
    • A
    • A

As I settled into my seat at the local multi-plex Saturday night to watch Flight, I had already concluded that the marketing department qualified for a fail for not coming up with a better title. Really? This is as good as they could manage? By the end of the film, I realized that this was the sort of movie for which you get the title only after seeing it. It's the other kind of flight, the headlong dash away from reality and toward the destructive spiral of booze and drugs. Aviation is involved only incidentally, although you wouldn't know that from the trailer. Could just as well have been Amtrak or a shipwreck.

Bluntly, this is a movie about addiction, abandonment, despair and utter hopelessness, without much redemption to send the rattled theater-goer back into the street with even a wisp of optimism. If you've seen the trailer, you know the setup: Super pilot Whip Whitaker, played by Denzel Washington, recovers an impossibly stricken airliner to an off-airport landing, saving most of the occupants and, predictably, being elevated to hero. That is until the hagiographers learn that Whitaker was drunk and jacked up on cocaine before he even arrived at the airport. But that, it will be revealed, wasn't a factor in the crash.

This film is excellent and Denzel Washington is, as usual, superb. He could act his way out of a welded steel box. But I can't necessarily recommend seeing this picture. I can't say I liked it. For anyone who has experienced the undiluted hell of profound alcoholism or drug addiction, it is excruciatingly painful to watch because you know where it's going if the script is true to how life plays out with addiction. It is.

If you've been through it with friends or relatives, as I have, it will be difficult to find much entertainment value and once is enough: no recurrency wanted or needed, thanks. I suppose if you've never seen how dark dark can be, the film offers a real enough glimpse. I think the director, Robert Zemeckis, may have sensed the weight he was putting on the audience and toward the end of the film, there's a scene with John Goodman playing a scenery-chewing and enabling drug dealer tasked with reviving Whitaker from a drunken stupor to appear before the NTSB within the hour. It's supposed to be comic relief, but I sensed the audience I was in was too numb to appreciate the joke.

Speaking of the NTSB and the addictions aside, Flight does offer a taste of what it must be like to find yourself in an adversarial relationship with the government after an accident that wasn't—or at least that you believe wasn't—your fault. The crash scene is typical Hollywood, which is to say more than riveting enough to keep the audience engaged. It's the rest of the film that made me want to take flight myself. I'm not panning it, mind you. Just trying not to think about it.

Comments (36)

Paul, thanks for the insight into this movie. Based on the trailers and 'hype' I would never have suspected what the movie was really about. I too have had the family experience with this situation and can't say I'm particularly interested in seeing it again. However, it does make me wonder why they didn't market it toward what it really is about.

Posted by: Richard Norris | November 5, 2012 5:42 AM    Report this comment

Sounds to me like more pablum for the masses.

Posted by: Phil Derosier | November 5, 2012 5:46 AM    Report this comment

It's interesting how Hollywood does this sometimes and it's clearly a decision that's made about some films. Generally it will be something socially beneficial like highlighting violence or addiction. Sometimes it's just bizarre like "Dusk till Dawn" - which I won't spoil if you haven't seen it.

Sounds like it's a long way from Forest Gump :-)

Posted by: John Hogan | November 5, 2012 6:08 AM    Report this comment

Phil, I'm not sure what point you were trying to make. Paul just got done describing how exhausting and raw the experience was. It sounds like a well-constructed dramatic piece if too emotionally intense. That's quite the opposite of pre-chewed baby cereal. Maybe the comment was directed towards the crash scene which, although it looks pretty over-the-top, is a small part of the whole movie that has little to do with the film's main theme and substance. Would you care to clarify further?

Posted by: Michael Mullins | November 5, 2012 6:15 AM    Report this comment

Disturbing to recovering substance abusers or not, I think this is a movie every pilot should see. Not because of the flying scenes—which were refreshingly accurate (except for maybe flying an airliner inverted at low level) but instead, to reinforce the accountability we all have to the authorities. As a maintenance flyer who's been involved in a crash and, like Whip, applauded for doing a good job with it, surrendering your body to the authorities for substance testing after an incident is a fact of life. Flying and boozing/drugging is taboo but it happens. Flunk a drug test after you crash and you'll better understand Denzel's troubles with the NTSB/FAA.

Posted by: LARRY ANGLISANO | November 5, 2012 7:38 AM    Report this comment

Dear Paul,

My wife and I made it through about fifteen minutes before we pulled the ejection handle, and that was about ten minutes too long. I was prepared by the previews to suspend the reality of actual flight, but like one of your posters here, I wasn't at all prepared for the outright filth. The minute we left the theatre we began calling our grown children and our friends to wave them off on this piece of garbage. Interestingly, out of a theater filled with several hundred people, we were the only ones who pulled the plug, a sad commentary on what people will subject themselves to.

Posted by: Jim Wilson | November 5, 2012 7:44 AM    Report this comment

Actually, as far as movie depictions of flying goes, I thought this one was pretty well done. The co-pilot was perhaps a bit too meek and ineffective for what I would expect, but he made many of the expected calls during the takeoff roll, and did at least attempt to remind the pilot of turbulence penetration speeds. Also, I thought it pretty well depicted good CRM. The NTSB hearing also (from what I know of them) appeared fairly correct and not too Hollywood-ised.

As for the rest of the movie, it wasn't at all about aviation, and I can certainly see someone who went to it expecting an aviation movie to be disappointed. However, I did actually know the aviation bit was only going to be a small part (you kind of have to piece that together from all the various trailers available), so I knew what I was getting in to.

I study aviation accidents/disasters, and there has been more than one case where the pilot was initially marked as a hero for saving everyone, but then later questioned about his/her actions. Throw in also having an alcohol/drug problem, and it does make for some good drama.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | November 5, 2012 9:02 AM    Report this comment

I was glad to have seen the movie. Despite having had to deal with substance/alcohol abuse close up, the movie was impressive with its tight script, brutal honesty and excellent acting. They paid attention to the aviation side of things, basing the background incident on the Alaska 261 MD-80 crash about a dozen years ago (Hi Larry that jackscrew failure incident the crew did try to keep it aloft inverted but it was too far gone for that to work). I wasn't trouble by the Goodman scene...even in the depth of these sorts of issues there is some incongruous hilarity and it helps to get a laugh now and then even in the tough times. The scene I would have redone is the penultimate one of Whip addressing his new peers about his transgressions, that seemed wooden. Know what you're getting into with this one, it's not sweetness and light. But it is excellent cinema and a dose of reality not often seen.

Posted by: Scott Dyer | November 5, 2012 9:23 AM    Report this comment

Well, Mr. Mullins let me state up-front that I haven't seen the movie. The last "life-like" aviation movie I liked was "12 o'clock High" ... which pretty much sums up my taste of things ... and my age, I guess.

Aviation movies don't "do it" for me. Don't get me wrong, I realize the times have changed. It's just that I'd rather spend my time hanging out in any number of pilot lounges ... if I'm gonna consume time and money, that is.

Posted by: Phil Derosier | November 5, 2012 11:32 AM    Report this comment

No problem Phil. I'm know I'm being pedantic, but I just wanted to clarify the meaning of your description. It struck me because it's usually applied to silly fluff movies like Transformers (or, well, any Michael Bay movie) or any number of scatological comedies. Even if the movie's not up your alley (or mine), it didn't seem to make sense given the seriousness Paul gave it. Again, just some minor pedantry.

Posted by: Michael Mullins | November 5, 2012 12:00 PM    Report this comment

Mr. Mullins, thank you for asking Phil to clarify his statement that "Flight" sounded like pablum for the masses. First of all, I find it amusing when people criticize a film they haven't seen -- shades of Billy Murray's character on SNL that used to predict the Oscar winners on what he 'heard or thought' since he never watched the nominated films. Secondly, even after Paul's review how can anyone call a script dealing with addiction, pablum for the masses. It does the filmmakers and the public a great injustice.

Posted by: Jim Fisher | November 5, 2012 1:54 PM    Report this comment

Geez, It looks like I'm going to pass on this one as well then. It sounds like aviation is just the setting for a self-destructive personality.
One of the best aviation shows I've seen was an old PBS series called "Piece of Cake". The story is about an RAF squadron during the Battle of Britain. No heroes or villains. Just men trying to make it through a bad deal and a tough time. They have illusions of 'knightly aerial duels', but eventually realize it is just a murderous slugfest.

Posted by: Matthew Lee | November 5, 2012 8:27 PM    Report this comment

Director Robert Zemeckis is a private pilot and I think he's instrument rated as well. I thought film was good, but the trailer seriously misrepresented it. It's not really much of a flying film at all.

Posted by: Adam Frisch | November 5, 2012 9:06 PM    Report this comment

I saw the movie this past weekend. I actually had some questions or comments on the technical aspects of the flight segments, and maybe some of you with technical expertise in flight characteristics of large airline aircraft can enlighten me.

1). Is there a reason that a jammed elevator jack screw in an aircraft in level flight would go to full down deflection?
2). If an elevator were in full down deflection, why does it achieve a stable steep dive? Wouldn't it continue in sort of an outside loop?
3). When the aircraft was rolled right side up just before impact, why didn't it revert to a steep dive? If they were able maintain a glide to landing, why couldn't they have done that without rolling the plane inverted?
Can a modern airliner really be flown inverted? I seem to remember in a previous life, when I was working on jet avionics, the loading envelope was only to -.5 g's. Do modern airliners have a wider maneuvering envelope these days?
4). Isnt it possible that the pilots prior flight near Vne might have been partially or fully responsible for damage to the control surface and jack screw? That was never brought up in the investigation. I kept waiting for that to come up, and for his reckless flight at high speed through heavy turbulence to be traced back to his incapacitation. And what would a pilot think that somehow flying at a speed beyond the maneuvering speed was somehow necessary in order to escape the storm they were in?

Posted by: Keith Miesel | November 6, 2012 8:08 AM    Report this comment

Another question on the aircraft: what is the "T" handle that the F/A pulls up, turns clockwise and then reseats? A hydraulic dump of some sort?

Posted by: Scott Dyer | November 6, 2012 10:11 AM    Report this comment

The scenario is loosely based on the Alaska Air Flight 261 crash in 2000. Here's a summary. The full report is on on the NTSB site:

In this case, a worn trim jackscrew was at fault, which caused the elevator to jam. The crew managed to unjam it, but that gave them uncommanded and uncorrectable pitch down. I suspect the failure patterns are variable with that sort of thing. It's vanishingly rare.

"When the aircraft was rolled right side up just before impact, why didn't it revert to a steep dive?"

Because it wasn't in the script. Obviously, writers take huge license in scripts in the name of entertainment. Scripts may having only passing connection to reality, and sometimes not even that.

One other amusing item I didn't mention and no one else has is the scene in which the lawyer says the NTSB had agreed to add act of God as an accident cause. Really? Don't think I've ever seen that in an accident report. I've seen system failures, fuel, weather, pilot incapacitation even cows listed as contributing factors. But not God. Hope it stays that way, too.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | November 6, 2012 10:27 AM    Report this comment

I believe it was during a demo flight that the Boeing 720 or 707 was intentionally rolled, so it is plausible that a modern airliner could fly inverted (though likely not as well as in the movie).

As for why the plane didn't continue pitching forward into an outside loop, unlike Alaska 261, the stabilizer trim in the movie was only stuck at the maximum forward pitch position. It seems the crew was able to counteract the forward pitch by pulling back on the controls, but not able to exert enough up-elevator control to arrest the dive.

I'm pretty sure the "act of God" part was simply to show how good of a lawyer he was, so I took it to be a clearly-absurd just-for-the-movie thing.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | November 6, 2012 11:09 AM    Report this comment

The roll you're referring to is Tex Johnston's famous Gold Cup roll of the Dash80 Boeing 707 prototype in 1955. That was a 1G roll, however, not inverted flight. Very different dynamics.

Here's a video of the roll, for those who have never seen it:

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | November 6, 2012 12:15 PM    Report this comment

Oh right, forgot about that minor detail. I thought I remember hearing about some modern airliner being flown inverted during an emergency, but maybe I'm just thinking of yet another 1G-ish roll.

Sounds like an excuse for another 2-hour "documentary" to purposely roll (and keep inverted) a 727 ;-)

Posted by: Gary Baluha | November 6, 2012 12:27 PM    Report this comment

Re the whole matter of pilots flying while high on alcohol or whatever:

If I had been on a commercial airline flight before seeing a movie portraying pilots flying high (not to be confused with height above terrain or altitude above sea level) and the plane was oscillating back and forth in coupled roll-yaw motions, I would have assumed the yaw damper wasn't activated. Or, it was out of order. After seeing a movie like what we are discussing, I would probably think this:

" ... HHHhhhmmm, I thought I saw some guy in a pilot's uniform walking down the concourse like a Dutch sailor who had a few drinks ... "

Hope y'all don't mind!

Posted by: Alex Kovnat | November 6, 2012 12:31 PM    Report this comment

Someone smarter than me can explain whether a typical airliner can fly inverted. But in the movie, I noticed that the director made a point of showing the engines were losing oil pressure. I took that to be a result of the inverted flight because it's what you'd expect to happen in a non-inverted oil piston engine under the same circumstances.

I don't know if transport-aircraft turbofans work the same way or not.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | November 6, 2012 1:05 PM    Report this comment

Another drunk pilot story. After I read the reviews on day 1 then I chose not to waste my money. Was it just me of did the copilot seen like Guy Flegman from Galaxy Quest?

Posted by: Mark Fraser | November 7, 2012 12:17 PM    Report this comment

Jim Wilson, you state you left the theater because "I wasn't at all prepared for the outright filth". I am hard-pressed to understand what you mean? If you read this post, please explain. Aside from trash in the aisle of the theater itself, what would make this film, 'filthy'?

Posted by: Jim Fisher | November 7, 2012 1:08 PM    Report this comment

Come on Airmen, its a movie not a documentary on pilots. Aviation is the vessel that carries the story. This beats another Batman or Rambo any day!

Posted by: frank vazquez | November 8, 2012 8:28 AM    Report this comment

I have participated on production of a few TV and big screen projects as a Technical Advisor. The directors paid me good money, but rarely listened to what I said! Hence the stupid scenes in some "Airpot Movies" when the party in the upper deck of the 747 is still going on and the engines running after the crash into the ocean and the haul intact resting in the deep!
I'm sure you noticed as I did (watching the trailer) the "winglets" on the MD-80!
I hope the T/A they hired was at least qualified to mention something about that!
As for the use of drugs and alcohol, most of us did our best after a night of wild sex, binge drinking and free basing!
I'm not saying there are never any of that in the cockpit, but we know it is extremely rare and hard to conceal in today's professional environment. As a younger pilot I lured by free booze and sexually abused by a few desperate, semi blind and very old F/A's.Sadly that ended as I grew older and the demand for my hard body and empty brain diminished!
On a serious note, we know thousands of professional pilots around the world operate millions of flights safely and securely without the use of any of the silly scenarios depicted in fiction novels or the unrealistic Hollywood productions. There is a tremendous amount of self discipline and self policing in every pilot's blood stream who has ever experienced "Flight!"
Captain Ross "Rusty" Aimer
(UAL Ret.)
Aero Consulting Experts
Los Angeles, CA

Posted by: Ross Aimer | November 8, 2012 12:27 PM    Report this comment

Come on Airmen, its a movie not a documentary on pilots. Aviation is the vessel that carries the story. This beats another Batman or Rambo any day!

Posted by: frank vazquez | November 8, 2012 12:32 PM    Report this comment

Sorry for the crazy spell checker butchering my post trying to reduce the characters below the limit! I was never good typing on the FMC either!:-)

Ross Aimer

Posted by: Ross Aimer | November 8, 2012 12:51 PM    Report this comment

Paul, the engines when inverted would have quickly lost oil pressure and blown the oil overboard. But that's okay, since airliners don't have flop tubes in the tanks the engines would have starved for fuel before the lack of oil pressure became a problem.

Posted by: Richard Montague | November 9, 2012 8:19 AM    Report this comment

My wife sometimes asks me when watching TV, "How can they do that?"

My response is "They followed what the script writer wrote."

Posted by: Edd Weninger | November 10, 2012 11:06 AM    Report this comment

Personally, I vote with Paul. Once you've "seen it in color", to paraphrase the country song, paying to watch the agony reprised on the big screen would not be the act of a rational person.

Posted by: John Wilson | November 13, 2012 7:32 PM    Report this comment

cheap designer Bedding
Fashion Bedding
Bed in a Bag Sets
Unique Bedding
Cheap Bedding

Posted by: green John | December 6, 2012 11:23 PM    Report this comment

Wedding Dresses 2012
new style Wedding Dresses
buy Wedding Dresses 2012
discount Wedding Gowns 2012
Wedding Dresses 2012 sale

Posted by: green John | December 6, 2012 11:23 PM    Report this comment

Bedding SetsCheap Bedding SetsCheap BeddingLuxury BeddingBedding Sets for Sale

Posted by: green John | December 6, 2012 11:23 PM    Report this comment

UGG 5889 fårskinnsstövlar Black - SEK 924.88 : Ugg Stövlar Utlopp Online,

Posted by: green John | January 23, 2013 9:45 PM    Report this comment

[b]Tiffany silversmycken[/b]
[b]BilliTiffany silversmycken
Billiga Tiffany och Co smycken
Billiga Tiffany och Co smycken
tiffany utlopp
tiffany utlopp

Posted by: green John | January 23, 2013 9:45 PM    Report this comment

Another fundamental component is a receiver.Some receivers intended for home theatre systems contain inputs for your personal cable TELEVISION SET or satellite tv for pc dish bond, as nicely as advices for many other issues, such for the reason that your DISC player, a person's VCR, yo.

Another fundamental component is a receiver.Some receivers intended for home theatre systems contain inputs for your personal cable TELEVISION SET or satellite tv for pc dish bond, as nicely as advices for many other issues, such for the reason that your DISC player, a person's VCR, your surround audio system, and possibly even a COMPUTER SYSTEM input.Some need a built-in airwaves, although these are typically becoming fewer common.Among the list of newer add ons to receivers is allow you to play XM the airwaves, although XM radio need a regular monthly subscription.So with almost all these choices, you must evaluate it is important to a person, as very well as what is important to actually IMPLEMENT.There might be little good sense, for situation, in equipping typically the receiver having XM stereo if you will not ever or never use that will option

Posted by: allen andeson | January 30, 2013 6:26 PM    Report this comment

Add your comments

Log In

You must be logged in to comment

Forgot password?


Enter your information below to begin your FREE registration