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Flight (Denzel Washington) - Review


Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

DENZEL Washington is seldom better than when playing ethically compromised characters as evidenced by his Oscar winning turn in Training Day and his incendiary performance in Man on Fire.

Flight, his latest, finds him soaring to new heights again, albeit in a film that doesn’t always match the quality of his acting.

Washington plays Whip Whitaker, a veteran airline pilot who becomes a hero when his actions in successfully crash-landing a plane save more lives than are lost.

The only trouble is Whip is also an alcoholic drug addict and toxicology tests taken in the aftermath of the crash show him to be way over the limit. Given that six souls perished, a finding of guilt on his part would result in a mandatory life jail sentence.

As lawyers and airline officials bid to divert blame, Whip struggles to come to terms with his addictions while desperately trying to keep his name and career intact.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis, Flight succeeds in raising some terrific moral and ethical dilemmas and is never better than when keeping its focus on them.

The opening half an hour is brilliant in setting things up, complete with a tour-de-force plane crash sequence that is as exhilarating as it is terrifying, while insights into the behind-the-scenes legal wrangling are expertly handled and riveting.

But by also attempting to turn the film into a tale of personal redemption complete with religious leanings, Zemeckis also robs the film of the tautness evident early on and feels like he’s pandering to Hollywood convention.

At close to two and a half hours, the film feels flabby and often overdone, especially in scenes between Whip and a recovering addict and potential love interest (nicely played by Kelly Reilly but somewhat superfluous).

Washington, for his part, keeps the whole film watchable throughout and is immense. His Whip is undoubtedly a hero but he’s also a difficult man to like and his capacity for arrogant self-destruction is conveyed with almost frightening intensity. He is a fascinating character to get to know, if not understand or even sympathise with.

Strong, too, are Don Cheadle as Whip’s smart but ethically challenged lawyer, and Bruce Greenwood, as his friend and colleague. Unfortunately, neither gets the screen-time they really merit given the film’s wayward priorities.

Hence, Flight is a frustrating affair: sometimes brilliant, sometimes contrived and very much flawed but definitely worth seeing for another Washington masterclass.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 139mins
UK Release Date: February 1, 2013