Associated Press
This film image released by Paramount Pictures shows Denzel Washington portraying Whip Whitaker in a scene from "Flight."

The new movie "Flight" opens gritty. There is nudity, alcohol and drugs all in the first few minutes.

Survive that and the grit will level out a bit, but it continues through to the final destination. So if you choose to board, buckle up for a bumpy ride.

Denzel Washington stars as hotshot pilot Whip Whitaker, who settles in at the controls of his plane anticipating a short, 40-minute trip to Atlanta. But the weather is rough during takeoff, and Whip has the reputation of taking the pilot's seat in less that tip-top shape. But his incredible skills and charm always seem to get him through.

This flight, however offers another challenge. Mid-flight, the aircraft suffers a catastrophic mechanical failure that puts the plane into an uncontrollable nosedive.

Only because of Whip's incredible skill and ability to marshal his crew and what's left of the mechanics of his aircraft is he able to regain some control by actually flying the plane upside down to stop the dive and ultimately soft-crash, saving all but six on board. He's immediately hailed as a hero. There is one little problem: a routine hospital blood test.

There's a parallel story that has been unfolding during the film featuring Kelly Reilly as Nichole, a beautiful woman who has resorted to prostitution and porn to support her drug habit. A life-threatening overdose finds her in the hospital at the same time as Capt. Whitaker and they meet in a stairwell sneaking a smoke.

When released, they find solace in each other as they struggle to rebuild their lives and work through their demons. Especially Whip. Still facing an investigation, estrangement from his only son, the death of his flight attendant girlfriend and alcoholism, well, we're left to wonder if he'll make it or not.

Comment on this story

This is a white-knuckle thriller, and Washington is fabulous. He drags the audience through myriad emotions and delivers at a 10-out-of-10-level effort from first scene to last.

Add to that the touching, sympathetic performance from Reilly, a great cast of supporting characters and a sharply executed script with spectacular effects, and you've got a huge hit.

But the high praise for "Flight" comes with warnings and regret regarding the grit. For that reason, pay close attention to the R rating while considering this 3½-star review.