The Big Picture
- Kelly Reilly delivers a powerful performance as Nicole in the film Flight, portraying a vulnerable yet strong-willed woman battling addiction alongside a troubled pilot.
- Reilly’s quiet intensity and ability to portray underlying pain make her a captivating actress, bringing depth to her characters such as Beth Dutton in Yellowstone and Nicole in Flight.
- In Flight, Nicole’s determination to claim her independence and guide the protagonist toward recovery showcases Reilly’s talent for portraying empathetic and resilient characters.
With CBS picking up Taylor Sheridan‘s epic Western Yellowstone, those who missed out on the sixth-generation homesteader John Dutton (Kevin Costner) maneuvering his way through both the Montana wilderness and political circles on Paramount+ will have the opportunity to enjoy the entire 5 season run. So naturally, that means Kelly Reilly will be introduced to a second wave of viewers as the inimitable and irreverent lone daughter and sister of the ranching family, Beth Dutton. She definitely has the ability to charm, but Reilly also commands the respect of everyone around her in a male-driven horse-raising, cattle-driving environment. Savvy veterans of Reilly’s work know just how versatile and dynamic the actress is, and that has probably never been more evident than in her performance in the 2013 film Flight. The incredible Denzel Washington may get top billing and most of the screen time, but make no mistake, Reilly is the beating heart and emotional anchor of the movie.
What Is ‘Flight’ About?
After piloting a flight that ends up crashing because of a mechanical failure, Whip Whitaker (Washington) comes under heavy scrutiny for having both alcohol and cocaine in his system at the time of the crash. Even though he pulled off a maneuver that only a handful of pilots in the world could accomplish and saved hundreds of passengers’ lives, the National Transportation Safety Board wants to know if he was impaired during the accident that killed six people. If it is found out that he was under the influence, Whitaker is looking at significant jail time and the airline is going to be heavily fined. While he’s recuperating in a local hospital, he meets a quiet woman while smoking in a stairwell named Nicole (Reilly) who has almost died from a heroin overdose. She is similar to her Yellowstone character in some ways, but very different in others. When the two begin a romantic relationship, Nicole and Whip both battle some serious demons and addiction while trying to maintain a star-crossed relationship that will be put to the test.
Why Is Kelly Reilly’s ‘Flight’ Performance So Powerful?
Kelly Reilly has a quiet intensity about her that always enhances her performances. Beth Dutton is fiery when she needs to be, but the underlying pain that the actress brings to the character from her tumultuous and strained relationship with her late mother and demanding father is what drives her. In Flight, she has some of the same vulnerability as an abused young woman with a severe drug problem. When she meets Whip, she is in the process of making a concerted effort to get clean. Whip helped her out with an abusive motel owner who was about to throw her out on the street and gave her a place to stay, so initially, Nicole feels indebted to him for his kindness.
But as Whip continues to spiral downward into boozy oblivion, Reilly begins to bring some of that Beth Dutton attitude to Nicole. She has gotten a regular job and is attending AA and NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings making a concerted effort to get back on her feet. With her character’s backstory of being a sex worker and an addict, Reilly is mesmerizing as a single woman who seems ready to buckle under, but like Beth, she summons that strength to not only stay clean but try to bring Whip along with her so that the two can have a healthy relationship. Reilly blossoms as Nicole who is determined to claim her independence.
Nicole Is a Lot Like Beth Dutton in One Aspect
Beth Dutton has the ability to compartmentalize her pain and use her smarts to get what she wants from men who consistently underestimate her smarts and business acumen. In Flight, Nicole is winsome, soft, and extremely understanding as Whip’s struggle only gets worse as he begins to feel the weight of the PTSD of the crash and an ongoing NTSB investigation. But her patience only goes so far, and Reilly really brings the emotion as a newly sober and confident woman who has to go toe to toe with Washington who is one of the most powerful actors in the business. And as Whip, Washington is an angry and mean drunk who gets in Nicole’s face in the most intense and well-acted scenes in the film.
There are only a few actresses in Hollywood who can go tit-for-tat with an emotionally charged Denzel Washington, and Reilly, who is the true heart of the movie, does it with keen aplomb. She exudes both empathy and elegant agency as she knows that Whip is headed down a path that she cannot follow if she wants to stay clean. Like Beth Dutton, Nicole is a survivor, but not selfish. She wants to bring him along, but as the saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”
Kelly Reilly Makes You Want Nicole To Succeed
Unlike her character on Yellowstone, Nicole isn’t born of privilege, and she has had to scratch and claw for everything she has. She truly lives life day to day and takes nothing for granted. So when she makes one last impassioned plea to a drunk and irrational Whip, it is Reilly at both her softest and most earnest, and it’s why she is the beating heart of an otherwise bureaucratic story of a governmental agency’s investigation into a pilot after a crash. The flawed character aspect of the story falls to Washington as the main player struggling with the ubiquitous problem of addiction and denial, but the heavy lifting of the human emotional element falls on the shoulders of Reilly.
We so desperately want her to pull Whip out of the abyss that has grabbed him by the ankles and wants to pull him into an unimaginable darkness. If you know or have loved an addict, then you can identify with Reilly’s frustration at not being able to latch onto Whip with both hands and set him on the straight and narrow. And if the soulful performance of Reilly as a beautiful, but down-on-her-luck reclamation project can’t do it, then all you can do is peek between your fingers as you cover your eyes and wait for that addict to hit a new rock bottom.