Director: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly
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Captain Whip Whitaker (Washington) saves almost 100 lives when he crash-lands a malfunctioning plane in the middle of a field. It’s an impossible feat; an act of God; a miracle. Not least because he’s completely off his face at the time.
As his secret threatens to come out, Whip is hailed as a hero by the world – then swiftly charged with manslaughter.
Sound like a true story? Well, it isn’t. But you’d be forgiven for thinking so: Flight’s trajectory drags with all the heavy-handed weight of a drama based on real events. Thank goodness Denzel Washington is there to keep things on course.
From the off, the actor’s everyman charm is put to the test: we first meet him arguing with his ex-wife over school fees, while straddling a naked woman in a hotel room. A couple of snorts of coke later – and some camera moves that de Palma would be proud of – and he’s as high as a kite and we’re right behind him.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since Denzel Washington was nominated for (and won) an Oscar. It’s harder to believe that Robert Zemeckis has spent even longer playing with CGI trains and digital versions of Tom Hanks’ moustache. But this is a strong return to form for both men – at least, for the first half.
As Whip’s battle with alcoholism takes centre stage, screenwriter John Gatins wastes no time in wheeling out all the usual stereotypes. Dead parents. Abusive relationships. Under the Bridge on the soundtrack. John Goodman playing John Goodman. If you had a drink every time a cliché appeared, you’d be drunker than Denzel on a workday within minutes.
Kelly Reilly’s impressive as the troubled love interest, a druggie with her own issues, but Flight’s determination to tick all the Addiction Drama boxes weighs the whole thing down with award-baiting baggage.
Thankfully, Washington’s likeability mode is turned to 11 throughout, turning a long haul into an engaging, at times even moving, ride. But by the time the messy moral conclusion comes in to land, Flight has lost the alarming momentum of its opening act. Throwing children, luggage and churches around, Zemeckis’ flawless blockbusting set piece shocks and enthrals in equal measure – and all without a hint of shoddy CGI. Not bad for a director who’d probably forgotten what people looked like. You could almost swear it was real.
Flight is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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