Flight review

Denzel Washington and Robert Zemeckis on top form

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Flight is the sort of ‘adult’ movie Hollywood loves to make.

An alcoholic pilot is proclaimed a hero before spiralling out of control; it’s an arc more solid than the Forth Bridge.

Couple that with a spellbinding set-piece, a towering central performance and a return to fertile ground for a director who has been off on his own flight of fancy, and all the ingredients are in place for one of the more sophisticated studio offerings of late.

Denzel Washington soars as Captain Whip Whitaker, a commercial airline pilot about to take control of a 9am flight to Atlanta. “I’m feeling a little light-headed,” he says. “I should’ve ate something.”

Or maybe not done that line of cocaine in his hotel room and downed those two miniatures on board...

But, amid terrible weather conditions, when a mechanical failure occurs, Whitaker pulls off a miracle crash-landing – one that sees him hailed as a saviour by the TV news crews.

After a trio of underwhelming mo-cap adventures ( The Polar Express , Beowulf and A Christmas Carol ), director Robert Zemeckis shows us exactly what special effects should be used for – with a plane crash so visceral you’ll be reaching for the sick bag.

But that’s just the beginning of John Gatins’ script.

A routine blood-test shows up Whitaker’s use of drugs and alcohol, which means – despite his life-saving antics – he faces jail-time.

Showcasing an intriguing moral quandary, Flight is really a character study in addiction – witness Kelly Reilly’s heroin-injecting masseuse, who Whitaker meets in hospital.

Washington never misses a beat as he unravels from cocky self-assurance to reveal an inner monster raging with self-pity and loathing.

It’s not entirely turbulence-free – Whitaker’s coke-supplying buddy (John Goodman) is ill-fitting and the final act about-turn is a little too, well, Hollywood.

But for the most part, ably steered by an on-form Zemeckis, Flight is well worth boarding.

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Freelance writer

James Mottram is a freelance film journalist, author of books that dive deep into films like Die Hard and Tenet, and a regular guest on the Total Film podcast. You'll find his writings on GamesRadar+ and Total Film, and in newspapers and magazines from across the world like The Times, The Independent, The i, Metro, The National, Marie Claire, and MindFood.