With Flight, director Robert Zemeckis has made a solid, unshowy character drama, the kind of film cinemagoers of a certain age will tell you the studios don't really make any more. It reminds me a little of an Eastwood movie - specifically, with Eastwood in his capacity as a film director, that is. It's a sober piece about a man's moral choices, built around a creditable central performance from Denzel Washington as Whip Whitaker – an alcoholic pilot who, still drunk and high from the night before, manages to land his aeroplane after a mechanical failure sends it into a 4,800 ft dive.
The crash itself is amazing; a 10-minute nose dive, with Zemeckis barely moving his camera out of the cockpit. Whitaker emerges a hero – “you’re a rock star” – before he is called to account. “Death demands responsibility,” Don Cheadle’s lawyer explains. “Six people died. Someone is to blame.”
Flight is essentially a study an intelligent man living in denial. The film revolves entirely around Washington: sweaty, puffy, slow-eyed when down, very much The Man when the booze and the coke kick in. Zemeckis – who hasn’t directed a live action film since 2000’s Cast Away – shoots the film as straight as possible. But that’s not to say it’s without wit. There are artfully handled moral ambiguities here: could Whitaker have saved that plane if he hadn’t been blasted on vodka and cocaine?
With a film so focused on his character, there is little room for those around him to breathe – although John Goodman gets some meaty scenes as Whitaker’s drug dealer, who seems to be modelled on The Big Lebowski’s Dude. It’s Washington’s best work since Training Day: a damaged, defiant soul, strutting down hotel corridors with his aviator shades on, that latest line of coke racing round his blood stream, or shivering as he pours bottles of spirits down the sink.
Rating: 7 / 10
Opens February 1 // Certificate 15