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Flight

Year: 2012
Production Co: ImageMovers
Studio: Paramount
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Producer: Robert Zemeckis
Writer: John Gatins
Cast: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Bruce Greenwood, Don Cheadle, John Goodman, Nadine Velazquez

A lot of the love bestowed on Flight by critics can only be attributed to love of the director Robert Zemeckis himself, a kind of very belated thanks to his oeuvre and gratitude that he's stepped behind the camera again for a live action film after so long.

That might make you think this review is going to be negative. Absolutely not. Zemeckis has lost none of his talent as a director, and with a top-notch cast (few of whom could act badly if they tried) he's made an extremely high quality film in a technical, emotional and storytelling sense. Denzel Washington can make us believe he's a man on the verge of an emotional precipice with a single tilt of his head no differently than Zemeckis can make us believe a commercial airliner full of people is flying upside down only a few hundred feet off the ground.

But here's what you don't know about Flight – it's not about a plane crash. It's not even really about the aftermath. It's about addiction and what it can do to us. It's not the thriller it looks like in the trailer, no matter how nerve-shreddingly realistic and thrilling the flight sequence is. It's a drama about a man who has to face what's wrong with him, and it's hard to decide if that makes it an incredibly high quality disease-of-the-week midday movie with a much bigger budget or a Hollywood blockbuster thriller that's kind of tepid.

Washington is Whip, a workaday pilot for a small domestic airline. Despite waking up in his hotel the morning of an early flight surrounded by coke, booze and a scorchingly hot member of the flight crew (Velazquez – eye-bulgingly, full frontally naked for the first few minutes), Whip is a brilliant pilot.

He gets their routine flight through a wild storm and into the clear with aplomb before disaster strikes and the plane starts plummeting to the ground. While even the flight crew are crumbling around him, Whip keeps it together despite the two vodkas he's downed already, turning the plane upside down to arrest the dive before ditching as gently as he can in a field.

When he wakes up in a coma days later he's a national hero, and everyone from his crazy drug dealer Harling (John Goodman) to Hugh (Don Cheadle) the smart, polished lawyer bought in to Whip's cause wants a piece of him along with the news crews outside the hospital.

But Hugh, along with Whip's pilots union friend Charlie (Greenwood), has more disturbing news. The toxicology report from Whip's admission shows he was full of alcohol and drugs and in no shape to fly despite his quick thinking heroism.

Whip goes underground to the farm where he grew up while the lawyers, unionists and money men try to protect him and the airline from the litigation nightmare that would ensue if the truth got out, and he connects with Nicole (Kelly Reilly), a recovering heroin user he meets in hospital.

But we realise before Whip does that he's under a cloud he can't even see, convinced he drinks because he likes it. Flight might have been a ham fisted, preachy diatribe on alcoholism in lesser hands, but Washington is so good he has us convinced his drinking's under control as much as his character believes it.

Some will be hoping for a better–staged, belated entry into the Airport disaster movies, and the movie after the crash is going to disappoint them. If that's you, you should instead prepare yourself for an emotional drama with high calibre actors and a director who's been away from a camera far too long.

And if you're a Zemeckis fanboy or girl thrilled to see him return to the technical realism he's always been known for, Flight will make you wonder what a fourth Back to the Future film looks like in some parallel universe right now.

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