'Flight': What the Critics Are Saying

Denzel Washington Flight - H 2012
Paramount Pictures

Audiences may experience turbulence during the thriller, but it's worth it. Critics agree: Denzel Washington soars in his latest role.

The plane has landed.

In Robert Zemeckis’ new film Flight, Denzel Washington plays pilot Whip Whitaker who miraculously lands a malfunctioning plane, saving almost everyone on board. Although the Oscar winner’s character is first perceived as a hero, his problems with alcohol and drugs soon rise to the surface, and his severe addiction could lead to prison time.

The Paramount-released film closed this year's 50th New York Film Festival and opens in theaters Nov. 2.

Flight received a score of 83 from Rotten Tomatoes.

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Read below for excerpts of the reviews from top critics: 

Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter says, “After 12 years spent mucking about in the motion capture playpen, Robert Zemeckis parachutes back to where he belongs, in big-time, big-star, live-action filmmaking, with Flight. A gritty, full-bodied character study about a man whose most exceptional deed may, ironically, have resulted from his most flagrant flaw, this absorbing drama provides Denzel Washington with one of his meatiest, most complex roles, and he flies with it. World premiering as the closing night attraction at the 50th New York Film Festival, the Paramount release will be warmly welcomed by audiences in search of thoughtful, powerful adult fare upon its Nov. 2 opening.”

The New York TimesManohla Dargis notes, “Mr. Zemeckis is in very fine form in Flight and when he sends a camera whooshing down the aisle of the failing plane, the controlled movement both conveys the contained frenzy of the scene and visually echoes the chill racing along your spine. Here he achieves more than virtuosic display. By something more, I don’t mean the movie’s subject, which is, at its broadest, a tail-spinning alcoholic. Superficially, Flight is the sort of award-season entry that earns plaudits simply because its subjects are sanctified as important, serious. There’s seriousness in Flight, but not self-seriousness. And what distinguishes it is the balance of its parts and how its floating, racing cameras complement the nimble performances, rocking emotions and ups and downs of the story and music alike.”

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Huffington Post’s Marshall Fine comments that, “Rather, Robert Zemeckis' Flight is a character study disguised as a thriller. The near-crash is just the beginning of the story -- and the story is not what you think. Instead of some dark conspiracy tale, it's an examination of one man's struggle with his own demons, brought into stark relief by his situation.”

David Edelstein of Vulture is a fan: “No actor is as brilliant, or as cunning, as Denzel Washington at portraying superhuman coolness and the scary prospect of its loss. Watch him in Flight as airline captain “Whip” Whitaker (excellent name!) as he Hoovers a line of cocaine to counteract a blood-alcohol level that would topple a lesser man and jauntily heads for a plane carrying ‘102 souls’ with the Stones blasting. His responses, in spite of everything, are acute — Whip is whip-smart. Even when out of control, even after he stumbles on the first step to the plane, he flirts tantalizingly, seductively with self-mastery. Despite everything, you think he just might be able to fly as well or better than anyone else. Because it’s all about control. And because he’s Denzel.”

Associated PressChristy Lemire points out “If Flight weren't so exceptionally crafted and acted, this tale of self-destruction and eventual redemption might feel like the sort of feel-good fare you'd see on the Lifetime Movie Network, or even a 12-step-program promotion.”

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Lemire adds: “Instead, director Robert Zemeckis' first live-action film since 2000's Cast Away is by turns thrilling, engrossing and even darkly funny, anchored by a tremendous performance from Denzel Washington. This is one of those Washington roles, like his Oscar-winning work in Training Day, in which he exudes a potent mix of damage and bravado, control and danger, but he's so incredibly charismatic even as he does bad deeds that you can't help but root for him.”

Michael Phillips from Chicago Tribune concludes, “Time has revealed Zemeckis to be something of a classicist despite his obsession with cinematic technology. Washington, whose face in Flight becomes a series of bargains and lies Whitaker tells himself and the outside world, interacts wonderfully with his fellow actors, often with two and three performers sharing the frame for a satisfying length of time. So few directors care about that sort of thing anymore; so few care about choreographing, subtly or showily, the interaction between the camera and the actors without resorting to cutting. (Steven Spielberg remains vitally interested in this vanishing aspect of the craft as well; see the forthcoming and very fine Lincoln for proof.) Flight is Washington's show, and he's marvelous in it. But Zemeckis and his team put everything in place so that Washington could run with it, with unnervingly good results."

Flight is set to open in theaters on Nov. 2.