Denzel Washington waltzed in late to the press conference following the NYFF screening of the Robert Zemeckis-directed “Flight.” The audience didn’t mind of course, because he’s Denzel: His appearance prompted wild applause which immediately drowned out the voice of screenwriter John Gatins. (Skip straight to minute 2:21 in the video below, aspiring WGA members, for an example of just how much people will care about the ten years you spent agonizing over your baby’s archetypes when your star finally decides to drop by.)
Of course Washington can do any damn thing he pleases, especially after managing to make audiences root for “Whip” Whitacker, a deadbeat dad and eternally drunk airline pilot who has spent decades holding the pieces of himself together with a mix of equal parts Stoli, cocaine and self-pity. Washington pulls off an impressive, believable performance as a man whose greatest act of heroism also brings the world tumbling down on the lies he’s told himself and the rest of the world. And the rest of the cast is terrific– especially John Goodman, hysterical (if somewhat off-message) as The Guy In The World You’d Most Want To Do Do Coke With.
The film itself is far less terrific, and its many misses include far more AA than any non-12 stepper should have to bear, and one too many debates with wise bald terminal cancer patients about the existence/omnipotence/benevolence of God (along with some heavy church symbolism — complete with a destroyed cross — that detracts from rather than adds to the film’s spiritual dimension). Also, though Washington gained a bit of weight for the role and is convincing as a middle-aged man in decline, the preternatural beauty of Whitaker’s three on-screen love interests, all either half his age, built like brazillian bikini-models, or both, doesn’t do much to dull the movie’s slick Hollywood sheen.
None of that matters, though, when Don Cheadle finally steps in as the lawyer hired to make Whitaker’s problems go away. In 1995’s “Devil in a Blue Dress,” Washington had more chemistry with Cheadle than with any of his nubile love interests before or since, and almost 20 years later, nothing about that chemistry has changed. The few short scenes the two actors share give hints of how crackling “Flight” could have been if it had toned down its leaden redemptive beats.
Below, Cheadle and Washington talk about how it felt working together again after so many years.