DVD Release Date: February 5, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: November 2, 2012
Rating: R (for drug and alcohol abuse, strong language, sexuality/nudity, and an intense action sequence)
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 139 min
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood, Melissa Leo

Captain "Sully" Sullenberger became one of our modern-day heroes when he successfully landed the disabled US Airways Flight 1549 into the Hudson River and saved every life onboard. In the days following that "Miracle on the Hudson" we came to learn what a man of integrity he was, to no surprise.

Now imagine if Sullenberger had been a coke-snorting alcoholic, was intoxicated during the crash at twice the legal limit, yet still achieved the same heroic level of success. Through circumstantial and moral complexities, that's the basic scenario Flight posits – which makes for a rather compelling What-If.

Understandably (though somewhat misleadingly) promoted as a thriller of sky-high valor, Flight is actually an examination of addiction. While that promotes values-based themes, and the need to grapple with God specifically, it does so by way of a hard-R honesty that depicts the spiral of addiction – from promiscuous sex and pervasive language, to mixing and taking hard narcotics – in all its squalor. Conservative viewers would champion the film’s message but be too offended to actually see it through.

The film opens by throwing it right in our faces. It’s early morning and Captain “Whip” Whitaker (Denzel Washington, Unstoppable) lays in bed, hung over from the night before, as the young woman he slept with casually walks around their hotel room completely naked. After taking a phone call from his embittered ex, Whip snorts a few lines of coke before heading off to work... piloting a commercial airliner.

He's clearly done this before. This is nothing new. He is unfazed. Whip takes the definition of "Functioning Alcoholic" to a whole new level by being in complete control of his world. He's not trying to make up for his deficiencies; he has a swagger. Then all hell breaks loose – but not because of him.

After a rather turbulent takeoff but subsequent smooth flight, the plane malfunctions in descent and goes into an immediate nosedive. It is a harrowing and extended sequence. Yet rather than being overwhelmed by extreme circumstances compounded by a hangover, Whip rises to the challenge. He is calm, cool, confident, level-headed: a real leader through crisis. One hopes that in any similar real-life scenario he would be so blessed as to have someone as assured and gifted as Whitaker is here; he ends up saving nearly every life onboard.

Instantly he is a national hero, but then the investigation begins. Every detail is scrutizined – including toxicology reports – as airlines, unions, insurers, and manufactureres compete in a high-stakes blame game. Despite Whitaker’s miraculous feat, and the cause no fault of his own, he becomes a likely target on which to lay responsibility. Specifically it’s not right, but fundamentally he’s not innocent.

After a decade-plus diversion into motion capture animated films like The Polar Express, director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump) comes back to live-action in a riveting return-to-form. He crafts the story with a big-budget polish that never undercuts the material’s grit, and provides Washington a showcase on par with what Zemeckis staged for Tom Hanks in Cast Away. Washington gives a potent portrayal of a man wrestling with demons and losing, his brash exterior fighting to keep shame hidden. Over a legendary career, this will be one of the roles he’s rememebered for.