Sunday, November 4, 2012

Ithaca Lawyer's First Movie Review: Flight with Denzel


I am not a movie reviewer but I am a defense and personal injury attorney who focuses on DWI cases. So when the new movie Flight with Denzel Washington began their previews I got excited.

Excited for a number of reasons, I love Denzel, as an actor, I think he is amazing, I love producer Robert Zemeckis (of Forrest Gump fame), and I love this movie's storyline, DWI pilot saves/crashes a plane. However, you choose to spin the story, it is compelling, especially with Denzel at the wheel so to speak.

Mixed Reviews

My wife and I went to see the movie in Ithaca after reading mostly good reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and a bunch of "iffy" ones. I am always leery of the reviews that are too positive or too negative, afterall a movie of this nature (moral content) usually compels people (even reviewers) to take sides or positions. Some reviewers thought the movie was too AA (alcoholics anonymous) preachy. I went in looking for this perspective but didn't see it that way. As anyone knows from reading my stuff I am Not pro-drinking/drugging/driving/operating planes, trains, or automobiles, that would be crazy. I am not crazy that way but I do believe that everyone deserves the full extent of the law, it's protections and it's consequences.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

I also believe that those who need help should get it, whatever works for them, whether this is AA based or something else. I have seen different programs work for different people, just like any program/idea/philosophy/methodology it must be worked, it must be believed, and it must be integrated for a long term change.

That said, I really liked this movie but I had issues with some of the legal/administrative/story proceedings and dialogue relating to the operation of a plane while under the influence, and how Denzel's character forced me to suspend disbelief on a few occasions.


Denzel's blood alcohol concentration post-crash came back as a 0.24 BAC. 

His attorney supposedly "squashed it", as in got it thrown out. We only know the issues he pointed out on camera: the blood preservative was wrong, the lab machine was not calibrated (verified/validated) properly/timely, and the transfer of custody procedures were violated by the hospital personnel. Whether he did this by a Court motion or by a motion and Court hearing is never revealed. Poetic license, maybe?

Multiple Samples?

There would have been at least two samples drawn. One for the hospital for triage and medical treatment of Denzel immediately, and then a forensic sample. Whether either one of those samples could have presented at an administrative or civil hearing is another issue. Proof at these hearing has a lower standard than the criminal one of beyond a reasonable doubt.

What is the True BAC limits for pilots, CDL holders, and train drivers?

The true legal limit for a pilot (commercial airline, bus, train) is .04 BAC (blood alcohol concentration).

        In 1985 and 1986, the Federal Aviation Administration implemented the current version of section 91.17 of the Federal Aviation Regulations, which applies to all aircraft pilots (general and commercial aviation alike) and states in part that
        NO person may act or attempt to act as a crewmember of a civil aircraft— (1) Within 8 hours after the consumption of any alcoholic beverage; (2) While under the influence of alcohol; (3) While using any drug that affects the person's faculties in any way contrary to safety; or (4) While having 0.04 percent by weight [8.7 mmol per liter] or more alcohol in the blood.

The movie indicated that a .08 BAC is the criminal limit. It is BUT not when you are driving/operating/flying as a "common carrier" and this standard is even less if you look at the the Federal law above. NO alcohol within 8 hours of flying a plane or even being a "crewmember" of a plane. Zero Tolerance is the law.

Denzel drives drunk with impunity?

In the movie much time is spent watching Denzel battling his alcohol addiction. He is driving and drinking, drinking and driving, in short violating law and order at every turn. Yet, he visits his ex-wife and son unexpectedly, who then calls the police because he is angry and inflamed, they arrive, his car is parked at a fire hydrant, the press arrive, and he is completely sloshed, and he is NOT arrested for DWI/DUI?

Instead we hear that the police escort him to a safe place. This has to be a movie because in real life people get arrested after driving drunk.

Well even after all of that I still loved the movie for the following reasons:

1. Denzel comes to terms with his lying and his addiction. He accepts responsibility, and the depth of his characterization of this event is astounding. His dynamic eyes and facial expressions reveal true transformation.
2. We see the balance of people's reactions and responses to the event (crash) and even to Denzel. Just like real life many people just don't know where or how to place a life changing and fatal event.
3. Act of G-d. A loaded expression or an expression loaded with emotion, where is G-d's role to play in all of this life stuff? Is there a G-d? Is this an Act of G-d? This is real and I see it daily in my practice, people trying to make sense of tragedy, to find meaning in the harsh consequences of the world's reality.

My wife and I walked away talking, discussing, and challenging one another. To me that is the proof of a good movie, now after we watched Cloud Atlas both of us were completely silent. Maybe we were so stunned by the brilliance? Or maybe something else?

Larry Newman, Ithaca Attorney