In Denzel Washington’s dreams, he finds himself stuck in a very unusual predicament. Though the Academy-Award-winning actor has personified the trials of humanity throughout his lengthy career in the movie business, in his own imagination and his new film, Flight, the sky deploys a bizarre limitation.
“I have a flying dream, I’ve had for most of my life,” the 57-year-old actor tells theGrio at a press conference for the film, in theaters today. “Somehow, I always end up near a city, and I go underneath bridges – like there are these low bridges. They’ll either be over a train, kind of like monorail trains, or water – a small body of water. And I would just work my way down and I’d stay under them. The other part of the dream, I’d just take off forever, and I’d be like, ‘Oh I gotta stay below the street wires, and then I’ll start to go back up, and I’m like, ‘I gotta go below the wires’…I have no idea what it means.”
Strange, albeit unassuming, it may be one of the few similarities Washington shares with his character in Flight,a psychological drama about a self-destructive pilot named Captain Whip Whitaker (Washington), who finds himself an unlikely hero when he commands a plane plummeting to its near destruction. Whitaker saves a hundred lives in the crash despite being under the influence of drugs and alcohol, questioning the notion of functioning addictions and the stretch of ethical responsibility.
“When I read the material, I just said, ‘Wow this is good,’” Washington recalls, also noting it was the last of two scripts his agent, Ed Limato, recommended before his death.
Click below to watch Denzel’s interview w/ Access Hollywood:
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As established in the opening scene, Whitaker reads like an oxymoron, strong but grossly dependent, arrogant and confident. He begins his day in a hotel room, high off cocaine and cocktails following a late night romp with a stewardess, and ends it in a hospital after a miraculous journey through the terrors of the sky. Whitaker needs help, but won’t accept it – a hero, real or imagined, who desperately wants to believe in his superpowers.
The character’s complexity turns not on his personal blights, but on his delusional understanding of how they reverberate. He’s not really a good guy; he’s not wholeheartedly bad either. Judgment, therefore, weighs the evils with the triumphs, making the acceptance of such an individual a puzzling matter for interpretation.
And according to Washington, the film leaves it simply at that.
“I don’t like waving the flag,” he explains. “It’s like when people say, ‘Well, what do you want people to get from this movie?’ I say, ‘Well it depends on what they bring to it’…I don’t try to decide what people should get from it or why. I don’t do a part for those kinds of reasons.”
Flight examines how firmly the public will stand by its hero, and whether the desire for leadership surpasses the necessity for law enforcement. It’s a query on the division of judgment, and God’s presence in a world of human conviction. Beyond the principal storyline, Washington must deal with a growing tree of unwanted circumstances: death, enablers, a broken family and the desire to repair life without using proper tools.
For a veteran star like Washington, however, it’s merely another day at work.