Flight Information

Flight is a 2012 American drama film directed and co-produced by Robert Zemeckis starring Denzel Washington, with Don Cheadle, Melissa Leo, Bruce Greenwood, Kelly Reilly, and John Goodman. Flight is Zemeckis' first live-action film since Cast Away and What Lies Beneath, which were both released in 2000. Flight was nominated for two Academy Awards at the 85th Academy Awards: Best Actor (for Denzel Washington) and Best Original Screenplay (for John Gatins).


On October 14, 2011, Airline captain/ recreational drug user Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) awakens in his Orlando hotel room with flight attendant Katerina Márquez (Nadine Velazquez) after a night of sex, alcohol, and very little sleep. After using cocaine to wake up, he boards SouthJet flight 227 to Atlanta. After Whip threads the plane through severe turbulence at takeoff, copilot Ken Evans (Brian Geraghty) flies the airplane while Whip discreetly mixes vodka in his orange juice and takes a nap. Whip is jolted awake just before their final descent and the aircraft goes into a steep dive as a result of an apparent catastrophic failure of all pitch control. Whip rolls the plane upside down to bring it out of the dive and maneuvers the plane right-side up just before crash-landing in a field. He loses consciousness shortly after impact.

Whip awakens in an Atlanta hospital with minor injuries. He is greeted by his old friend Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood), who represents the airline's pilots union. He tells Whip his heroism saved 96 of 102 people on board. A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) official informs him Katerina was among those killed, and that Evans has been put into a coma.

Sneaking a cigarette in the stairwell, Whip meets Nicole (Kelly Reilly), who is recovering from an 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, hoping to avoid the media. When he meets Charlie and attorney Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle), they explain that the NTSB performed a hospital toxicology screen, while he was unconscious, showing that Whip was intoxicated. The test had the potential to send Whip to prison on alcohol, drug and manslaughter charges. Lang promises to get the toxicology report voided on technical grounds, but Whip angrily leaves and seeks Nicole. He finds her bailing on her lease, offers to pay for it, and lets her stay at the farm.

Nicole and Whip begin a romantic relationship, but Nicole is trying to stay sober while Whip keeps drinking, and she soon leaves. The media discover his farmhouse, so he drives intoxicated to visit his ex-wife and teenage son. They call the police. He begs to stay with Charlie, vowing not to drink before the upcoming NTSB hearing.

The night before the hearing, Charlie and Hugh check Whip into a guarded hotel room to ensure he does not get intoxicated. His mini-bar has only nonalcoholic beverages, but Whip notices an open door to the adjoining room and finds a mini-bar full of alcohol. Charlie and Hugh find him the next morning, passed out drunk. They call Harling, who brings him cocaine to perk him up for the hearing.

At the hearing, Ellen Block (Melissa Leo), the lead NTSB investigator, reveals the cause of the plane's first malfunction to be a damaged elevator assembly jackscrew. She commends Whip on his valor. Just as it appears Whip will escape blame, Block notes that there were two empty alcohol containers found in the trash on the plane; Whip knows these were his. Block points out that only the flight crew had access to the alcohol, and since only Katerina's toxicology screen showed alcohol, Block asks Whitaker whether he thinks Katerina may have been drinking on the job. Refusing to taint Katerina's good name, Whip admits not only that he was flying intoxicated but also that he is intoxicated at the hearing.

Thirteen months later, an imprisoned Whip, serving a minimum five-year sentence, 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 is shown to have pictures of Nicole and other family and friends on the wall of the cell, along with greeting cards congratulating him on being sober for a year. In the final scene, Whip's son visits him to interview Whip for a college application essay on "the most fascinating person I've never met".


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Robert Zemeckis entered negotiations to direct in April 2011, and by early June had accepted, with Denzel Washington about to finalize his own deal. 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, 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'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.

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 and in which the pilots briefly attempted to recover from catastrophic loss of control by flying the aircraft upside down. That crash had no survivors.


Flight has received mostly positive reviews. The film has an approval rating of 77% based on a sample of 168 critics on Rotten Tomatoes. 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% based on reviews from 36 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." 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". 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 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.

Awards and nominations

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

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