In Robert Zemeckis's Flight, Denzel Washington stars as Whip Whitaker, a pilot with an addiction problem who guides a jetliner to the ground after a sudden failure sends the plane into freefall. Nearly everyone aboard survives and Whitaker is branded a national hero. Soon after, the pilot's union discovers that he had alcohol and cocaine in his system, which sends Whitaker's life into a tailspin. Believing that the crash had nothing to do with his consumption, Whitaker frantically navigates the shambles of his personal life to avoid dealing with his own problems. He's assisted by a longtime union friend (Bruce Greenwood) and lawyer (Don Cheadle) for the airline, both of whom compromise ethical lines for their friend. He also meets a fellow addict, Nicole (Kelly Reilly), who's more realistic about the state of her life and tries to help Whitaker recognize his.
As a character study and a somber portrait of addiction, Flight works nicely within its commercial framework, thanks largely to one of Washington's best performances, as well as John Gatins's rhythmic dialogue. The extent of Whitaker's addiction is a gradual revelation the filmmakers don't overtly tease out, and Washington strikes a balance somewhere between the disparate sensibilities of manipulation and benevolence. As Whitaker becomes more complicit with the large-scale corruption seeking to preserve his status, he steeps further into rage-infused depression, which allows Washington to carve out his character's increasingly unbalanced behavior and self-loathing.