Non-Politics Edition: Denzel Washington in 'Flight'


For a variety of "I can't stand this any more!" reasons, ranging from an article just exiting its zillionth round of fine tuning and headed toward the printer, to the zillionth analysis of who The Only Americans Who Matter, the people of Ohio, are going to vote for and why, this afternoon I actually saw a movie on the same day it opened. My wife and I went to see Flight, directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Denzel Washington.

OK, I made my wife go see this because I thought it was an airplane movie -- which it is, sort of. But it also a Days of Wine and Roses / Lost Weekend movie; and another tour de force by Washington (and very strong performances by Don Cheadle, and Bruce Greenwood and Tamara Tunie, and a Big Lebowski-style reprise by John Goodman, plus others); and, in a way I may try to raise with Ta-Nehisi Coates as an extension of our e-book discussion, a movie of surprising quiet power about race consciousness in Obama-era America.

But I'll leave professional movie criticism to our Christopher Orr and simply say: strictly from the airplane perspective, I thought this was wholly absorbing and very good. There was one microscopic detail that was off*, and another secondary-plot point I didn't fully buy**. But there were many more details that rang right -- notably including the major plot point about what happened in the sky. And I will tell you that the aspirational ideal for anyone who has ever sat at an airplane's controls is to sound, in times of stress or crisis, exactly the way Denzel Washington does during the two or three minutes when the fate of 102 souls is in his hands.  Yes, when the air traffic controller says "say souls on board," that is the real usage. Very much worth seeing, even if you're in a less harassed-feeling, escapist-seeking mood than I was today.
* Microscopic detail: the tail number on the Cessna 172 owned by the Washington chararacter's cropduster father is not what a real US-registered plane could have. (For aviation readers: it appears to have six digits in its N-number; the maximum is five. I assume this was a deliberate ruse, like the phone numbers that come up "555-xxxx" in movies.)

** Secondary-plot point: not to get into spoiler mode, in a movie with actual suspenseful turns, but when Washington, as airline pilot, speeds up rather than slows down to deal with severe turbulence, and deliberately goes right through the middle of a violent storm, I thought: Hmmm. And, now that I think about it, there is a logic question involving the airliner's final glide (if the pilots have no pitch control), but never mind. It's good.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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