Compelling film, great suspense

HERO OR VILLAIN? Denzel Washington plays Captain ‘‘Whip’’ Whitaker who crash lands an aeroplane after drinking alcohol.
HERO OR VILLAIN? Denzel Washington plays Captain ‘‘Whip’’ Whitaker who crash lands an aeroplane after drinking alcohol.

Flight R16,
2hr 35min
Reviewed by Jimmy Ellingham.

There's something exciting about watching flying-themed films. The anticipation, drama and emotion of an airport goodbye or a trip high in the sky feel real as the moviegoer leans back and watches the big screen.

And, on a flight like the one in this movie, the sweaty palms and sense of nervousness hang heavy as the severe turbulence and foreshadowing mean you know something bad is going to happen.

Mercifully, it doesn't take long for things to go downhill.

The plane hurtles towards Earth and the only thing or man who can stop it is the arrogant, drunken captain who is so stoned and hung-over that he had to take a snooze during the flight, much to the astonishment of the rather straitlaced and moustached co-pilot.

As is shown in the film's trailer, Captain "Whip" Whitaker (the ever-impressive Denzel Washington) manages to crash land through some crazy and skilful manoeuvring and is feted as a hero.

Well, initially he is anyway.

Then the inevitable questions arise. Was he drunk? Should he have been at the controls?

The captain is keen to keep his image clean and is hell-bent on doing so as he staggers around after the crash.

As he tells his crack lawyer: "I know how to lie about my drinking."

This is where Flight is at its most compelling as we watch Captain Whitaker battle the booze.

He has his dramatic ups and pathetic, sad downs.

Along the way he befriends a down-and-out called Nicole (Kelly Reilly). She's also dealing with addictions but does so very differently from Whip, the crack pilot but troubled man.

The characters are all well developed, but a little predictable - rich and unlikeable airline owner, brilliant yet bookish lawyer and wizened old union rep.

The only black mark against director Robert Zemeckis is the lull in the middle of this lengthy movie, between the action of the plane crashing and the fascinating ending.

Some scenes seem drawn out and laboured, particularly when Whip and Nicole are chatting on a hospital stairwell and a man with cancer comes to bum a cigarette. Rather than merely puffing he delivers a 10-minute monologue.

There's also some mildly amusing but probably unnecessary mickey-taking out of the co-pilot when Whip visits him in hospital - "praise Jesus".

This movie is strong in drama and suspense and the comic elements are an odd fit with that.

All is forgiven at the end, when Whip faces a public hearing into the crash. If you want to refill your Coke or popcorn, or make a run for the bathroom, do it between the one-hour and 90-minute mark.

Manawatu Standard