Denzel Washington plays troubled pilot in ‘Flight’

Denzel Washington arrives to the LA Premiere of

Photo credit: AP | Denzel Washington arrives to the LA Premiere of “Flight” at the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles. (Oct. 23, 2012)

The crash of SouthJet flight 227 bound from Orlando to Atlanta isn’t the scariest thing in the drama “Flight,” director Robert Zemeckis‘ first live-action film since 2000’s “Cast Away” — which featured a pretty harrowing plane crash itself. The scariest thing is that the boozing, cocaine-using, utterly self-righteous pilot at the heart of the movie, opening Friday, feels perfectly comfortable with FWI — flying while intoxicated.

“It wasn’t his drunkenness that caused this to happen,” Zemeckis says by phone from Los Angeles — “this” being the storm and the mechanical failure that forces Denzel Washington’s Capt. “Whip” Whitaker to ditch in a field, using a daredevil maneuver that saves all but six on the doomed flight. “His drunkenness may well have saved everybody,” the director says. “You know, he was loose — which is one of those wonderful ambiguities that made me love the screenplay.”

Co-star John Goodman — who knows something about alcoholism and says with humble pride that his own “is something I came to terms with five years ago, and with daily grace I’m still sober” — isn’t so sure. “Whip also might not have taken off in that storm” had the captain not been drinking and snorting cocaine that morning, clouding his judgment, and it may have been the storm’s turbulence and lightning that caused the malfunction. “I don’t know and I may not be quoting the party line here,” says Goodman, also calling from Los Angeles, “but that’s what it looked like to me: He didn’t have to take off.”

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