Pilot with no self-control - Denzel Washington in Flight
Denzel Washington soars to a career high in Robert Zemeckis's emotionally fraught study of an airline pilot in the grip of a hopeless alcohol dependency.
Underpinned by John Gatins's intelligent script, Flight is a provocative drama that refuses to cast judgment on the central character as he repeats past mistakes and attempts to dodge the repercussions of his reckless actions.
Instead, the film accompanies the pilot on a turbulent journey of self-discovery as a mechanical failure in the air puts his aimless lifestyle under the microscope of public scrutiny.
Captain William "Whip'' Whitaker (Washington) wakes in a plush hotel room festooned with discarded bottles. Along for the ride is last night's conquest, flight attendant Katerina (Nadine Velazquez).
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Swigs of beer set up Whip for the day and he strides purposefully into the cockpit of his SouthJet flight to Atlanta, his bottle of orange juice spiked with vodka.
Katerina is on board, serving passengers alongside experienced colleague Margaret Thomason (Tamara Tunie).
But a routine flight becomes a nightmare when the plane loses altitude and hurtles downward at terrifying speed.
Whip is forced to perform a daredevil manoeuvre to halt the rapid descent before crash-landing in a field.
As the flight authorities' safety investigation threatens to expose Whip's failings, attorney Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle) promises to help him survive the fallout – on condition he cleans up his act.
Whip agrees to exorcise his demons, supported by recovering heroin addict Nicole (Kelly Reilly).
Romance blossoms but as Nicole continues to get her life back in order, Whip struggles to resist his desires, turning to drug dealer Harling Mays (John Goodman) to take the edge off his anxiety.
Flight boasts a jaw-dropping centrepiece crash sequence that spins the stricken plane through 360 degrees. Zemeckis orchestrates these intense scenes with brio but he is equally interested in quieter moments when Whip wrestles with his guilt and attempts to resist the temptations of a hotel mini bar.
Washington is riveting as a man in authority who can barely function without booze.
Reilly impresses in a pivotal supporting role and Goodman injects humour as the pusher who knows the perfect cocktail of narcotics to counteract a hangover.
Climactic scenes are gripping and we buckle up for a bumpy ride as Whip prepares to deliver sworn testimony at the public hearing, potentially glossing over the facts to restore his battered reputation.