Director Robert Zemeckis, who staged a truly frightening air crash in Cast Away, tops himself in this first post-Sully-Sullenberger air disaster movie. Zemeckis movies tend to be about people solving riddles or difficult technical problems (Back to the Future, What Lies Beneath), and Flight appears at first like it will be the story of how pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) will save his jetliner and its 102 passengers from a potential crash landing. (Answer: Roll the plane, which looks on screen even scarier than it sounds.)
Later, however, it becomes clear that the riddle here is a moral one: Did Whip’s substance abuse problems contribute to the near-disaster, or did his piloting skills save lives in spite of his intoxication? And how honest should he be about his addictions? That Washington’s tormented performance makes Whip seem human and real makes the film all the more frightening; after all, we’d like to imagine that, whenever we board a commercial flight, the pilots are people of superhuman skills and superhuman forbearance, not flawed, regular people like us.