All of the action in Flight happens in the first 20 or so minutes. It goes down like this: A pilot (Denzel Washington) wakes up in a hotel room after a long night of booze, drugs, sex, and soul music. He has a blast of cocaine to get his head in order. He is in the cockpit by 9 a.m. He expertly guides the jet from the runway into stormy clouds and, after a lot of turbulence, into the clear blue sky. Once the jet is flying smoothly, he drinks some more, hands control of the plane to his younger copilot, and falls asleep. Just before landing, trouble explodes, the captain wakes up, and the plane begins to dive to death. Chaos and fear consume the passengers. The captain remains supernaturally calm, exhausts idea after idea, and finally crash-lands in an open field, saving almost all of the lives on the plane. He becomes a national hero. But he does not want to be a hero. And it is here that the real story begins.
Flight is not about the captain's time in the air, but his life on the ground: his massive drinking problem, his estrangement from his wife and son, his accidental (almost existential) relationship with a junkie, his close friendship with a drug dealer (John Goodman). Many people want to help the captain (his lawyer, his union representative) but, in all honesty, he is not a nice person. There is only one thing he can do: fly airplanes. Surrounding that small but significant island of talent is a restless and endless sea of booze, sex, and drugs. And he seems happy with this arrangement. You leave him alone, and he will leave you alone. You go to church; he will go to the bar. You want to find meaning in life; he wants to fuck young women and have his dealer always on the ready. You do your job badly; he does his very well. Denzel Washington is at home in this character—a man who saves lives but is a complete asshole. Between the plane sequence, which Robert Zemeckis masterfully directs and edits, and Washington's Oscar-worthy performance, Flight reveals itself as one of the best films of the year.