Denzel Washington is Whip Whitaker in FLIGHT, from Paramount Pictures. F-04264R


DIRECTOR: Robert Zemeckis

CAST: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, John Goodman and Tamara Tunie


RUNNING TIME: 139 minutes

RATING: ****

There are veterans in Hollywood who aren’t surprising in how well they play their roles – especially because they bring a large percentage of themselves to the character every time.

Denzel Washington (pictured) has certain mannerisms – like sucking in his lips – that will never be divorced from any character he plays. However, what sets him apart from the sort of actors I first mentioned is that aside from the lip thing, he portrays someone in a manner that effortlessly allows you to forget that you are watching Denzel and instead, makes you feel like you’re just peaking into the life of a pilot affectionately known as William “Whip” Whitaker.

One of the best in the business, Whip is the sort of commercial pilot who doesn’t rest on his laurels, or miss an opportunity to clink glasses in a celebration or acknowledgement that it’s a Thursday or Tuesday or lunchtime.

His habit costs him his family and when the audience first meets him, it’s about to cost him a few lives and maybe even the job he used to live for.

As usual, Whip cracked jokes with a young co-pilot who hero-worshipped the man and gave him an even bigger God complex. Whip pilfered mini-vodka bottles – you know, the ones that fit so snuggly in your pocket that they are called “cellulars” in the ’hood – from the aeroplane fridge and added a bit of juice to his adult beverage.

But then something unusual happened: the turbulence forced the crew to fly at a crazy altitude, then the plane’s various parts started to become faulty and then – insert suspense violins here, please – Whip had to fly the plane upside down and do an emergency landing in the middle of a field of praying parishioners who must have thought the big upside down bird was signalling doomsday.

After that landing, Whip may want a pat on his back, or at least a handshake because, as he reminds everyone within earshot, no other pilot could have flown that plane the way he did.

Instead, there are some who want his hands in cuffs and a studious Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle) becomes his lawyer. The cocky shark proudly announces that his “clients never go to jail”, but will the boozing Whip be the first?

Flight shows us Whip’s journey – which could go his way or the prosecutor’s way.

It’s not all about two of Hollywood’s biggest black faces, though. John Goodman plays Harling, Whip’s hilarious best friend and sometimes drug dealer.

Tamara Tunie briefly plays Margaret, Whip’s love interest, and serves to bring out two extremes in Whip: the kind side and the drunk/high side.

There are various show-stopping moments in Flight, and I’m not referring to Washington’s butt on the big screen. Washington delivers a stellar performance, complete with one bloody tear taxi-ing down from his red eye.

Here, God is a huge theme. Whip’s God complex, the co-pilot’s obsessive religious views, joking, questioning, rejecting God – it’s a common thread throughout the film. However, aside from the Hollywood ending that I won’t spoil for you, there is one thing that is highly irksome in such a drama-packed film that lends itself to the audience being fully invested and listening: the dialogue. In some parts, the screenwriters packed waaaay too much information into a conversation between strangers.

We get to find out everything from where people live to who their siblings are in the first two seconds of people meeting.

That’s information that is unrealistically shared and feels like a cop-out.

Whip has some good lines, but someone else delivers a line that makes one think about Whip’s fate: “Death demands responsibility.”

If you liked… Flight Of The Phoenix or Crash landing… you’ll like this.