Review: Denzel soars as troubled pilot in 'Flight'
This film image released by Paramount Pictures shows Denzel Washington portraying Whip Whitaker in a scene from "Flight." (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures, Robert Zuckerman)
If "Flight" weren't so exceptionally crafted and acted, this tale of self-destruction and eventual redemption might feel like the sort of feel-good fare you'd see on the Lifetime Movie Network, or even a 12-step-program promotion.
Instead, director Robert Zemeckis' first live-action film since 2000's "Cast Away" is by turns thrilling, engrossing and even darkly funny, anchored by a tremendous performance from Denzel Washington. This is one of those Washington roles, like his Oscar-winning work in "Training Day," in which he exudes a potent mix of damage and bravado, control and danger, but he's so incredibly charismatic even as he does bad deeds that you can't help but root for him. Here, Zemeckis and screenwriter John Gatins have given him a deeply flawed character and placed him in a complicated situation, and allowed him to put the best of what he can do on display.
This film image released by Paramount Pictures shows Denzel Washington portraying Whip Whitaker in a scene from "Flight." Washington plays an airline pilot who, despite being hung-over, drunk and coked-up, manages to bring down a rapidly deteriorating plane in a daring emergency landing on what should have been a routine flight between Orlando, Fla., and Atlanta. (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures, Robert Zuckerman)
Washington stars as Whip Whitaker, a veteran airline pilot and serious alcoholic. When we first see him, he's waking up wasted and naked in a hotel outside the Orlando airport alongside an equally wasted and naked (and very sexy) flight attendant. A sip of beer, a hit off a joint, a line of coke and he's ready for his 9 a.m. flight — swaggering, commanding, even charming. Clearly, he's done this before.
But then a major mechanical failure en route to Atlanta forces him to pull off a daring crash landing in the middle of a field in a breathtakingly spectacular extended action sequence. (If you thought the plane crash in "Cast Away" was a doozy, this one's just as harrowing.) While the head flight attendant (Tamara Tunie) calmly, competently follows Whip's instructions, the deeply religious, judgmental co-pilot (Brian Geraghty) is useless as he panics and prays.