Flight - Denzel Washington's high-flying pilot crashes down to earth

(Image credit: Robert Zuckerman)

Denzel Washington’s pilot Whip Whitaker likes to fly high - just not in the manner sanctioned by the airline industry.

The protagonist of Robert Zemickis’s slick, superior Hollywood melodrama Flight (opens in new tab), Whip makes his first appearance waking from a booze and coke bender next to a naked, equally wasted air stewardess (Nadine Velazquez (opens in new tab)). Yet one bracing snort of cocaine later and he’s smartly dressed, briskly striding and ready to assume his duties as captain on a routine 9am flight from Orlando to Atlanta.

And he’s such a hotshot pilot that when the plane develops a catastrophic mechanical failure in midair he manages to crash-land the aircraft in a field, having first flown upside down to prevent it plummeting to earth, a brilliant - if thoroughly implausible - manoeuvre that gets him hailed as a hero.

Denzel Washington is Whip Whitaker in FLIGHT

(Image credit: Robert Zuckerman)

You’d think the crash - and the media and legal reverberations that follow - would sober Whip up, but he’s so far gone in addiction and denial that he can’t pull himself out of his self-inflicted tailspin.

Stripped to its essentials, Flight is a very conventional film - you can easily imagine a dozen made-for-TV movies following a similar flight path of downfall and redemption - but the on-board service provided by Zemeckis and crew is first-class.

Making his return to live-action films after a trio of motion-capture ventures, including The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol, Zemeckis turns the flight itself into a terrifying white-knuckle ride; and, played to the hilt by Washington, Whip’s subsequent personal descent is almost as scary. The Oscar-nominated Washington is, of course, superb, and he gets excellent support from co-stars Kelly Reilly as Whip’s heroin-addict companion, Don Cheadle as his savvy lawyer , Bruce Greenwood as his union rep and John Goodman as his rambunctious drug-dealer friend.

In cinemas from Friday 1st February.

Jason Best

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.