Friday Flicks: Can ‘Flight’ Give Denzel Washington’s Oscar Chances Lift-Off?

TIME breaks down which films to see and which to avoid this weekend.

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Flight

You can talk up your Daniel Day-Lewises and Joaquin Phoenixes — or even your Bradley Coopers this Oscar season —  but never count Denzel Washington out of the Best Actor race.

Case in point: Flight, brought to you by Robert Zemeckis, who is directing his first live action film since 2000’s Cast Away. His leading man, Washington, plays the ludicrously named Whip Whitaker, a veteran airline captain, who uses all his years in the pilot’s seat to somehow crash-land a plane after a mid-air catastrophe and save nearly everyone on board. While first hailed as a hero, Whip soon becomes the subject of some serious doubt as we learn about what really went down that fateful day.

The elements at play certainly sound diverting and the critics have taken to Flight, giving it a definite sense of lift-off. “After a decade spent tooling around with cold marvels such as The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol, Zemeckis’s return to life-action film-making is being hailed as The Kind of Adult Drama They Don’t Make Anymore,” notes the Guardian. “Flight is more entertaining and more cunning than that … what lends it that force are not the carefully calibrated moral ambiguities of the script, but the bruised, defiant soul that appears to us in the form of Denzel Washington.” Roger Ebert is similarly enthralled by Washington’s performance: “Not often does a movie character make such a harrowing personal journey that keeps us in deep sympathy all of the way.” And our own Richard Corliss is on board, concluding that “A canny director and a top star decided to dig deep to find the core of a compromised hero. And when they reach that center of gravity, Flight soars.”

MORE: TIME’s Review of Robert Zemeckis’s Beowulf

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