Director Robert Zemeckis knows how to tell a character driven story, as he’s proven multiple times with films like Forrest Gump and Cast Away. He’s also got a knack for bringing out some fantastic performances from amazing actors, which he’s done once again with Denzel Washington – not that he needs any help. Finally, Zemeckis knows how to film an airplane disaster, and the one he’s created in Flight is one of the best ever filmed.
Flight is the story about Whip Whitaker (Washington), a man battling his personal demons – alcoholism and drug abuse – that come to the forefront after a plane he was piloting crashes due to a mechanical problem. Whitaker is able to temporarily regain control of the doomed flight and bring it down in a crash-landing that claims the lives of six of the 102 souls on board.
While deemed a hero by the media and those around him, Whitaker soon finds himself under the council of Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle), who is an attorney hired by Whitaker’s friend from the airline pilot’s union, Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood). Whitaker is at first confused as to why he needs a lawyer, but quickly learns that while there’s no doubt he saved lives that fateful day of the crash, he also put them in danger by flying intoxicated. And since lives were lost, if it’s proven that Whitaker had anything to do with the crash due to negligence, he could go to prison for manslaughter for the rest of his life.
There’s really so much to love about Flight that it’s hard to find any fault with it. Right from the very start Zemeckis nails the tone of Whitaker’s high-flying, fast-paced, carefree lifestyle all in the way he captures Whitaker’s actions the morning after a night of binging – which is where the film begins. Shortly after, we’re on board the ill-fated flight with Whitaker in the pilot’s seat and a storm heading in.
It’s clear that trouble is brewing, and Zemeckis paints the picture perfectly. He masterfully keeps the tension building, while also pacing things out beautifully, so that there’s a sense of impending doom in the air even when it seems like the storm is behind them.
The crash scene itself is spectacular, keeping the viewer right in the pilot’s seat throughout most of it, and only leaving it to show what’s happening throughout the rest of the plane with the crew and passengers. It’s the type of scene where it’s easy for the viewer to lose all track of time and get lost in the sheer intensity of it all. When it’s over, don’t be surprised if you find yourself releasing a deep breath that you weren’t even aware was caught in your chest the entire time.
While the rest of the movie leaves action and intensity behind, the film becomes no less engrossing. The flight, and the crash itself are all just ways that writer John Gatins (Real Steel) brings Whitaker’s demons to the forefront of his life, making him truly face them for the first time. The script is incredibly well structured, and the character of Whitaker so well defined, that it’s no surprise that Gatins is up for an Oscar for his work here.
Washington is flawless, and highly deserving of his Best Actor nomination for the upcoming Academy Awards. His performance is captivating, and he really embodies the character, making the struggle Whitaker has throughout the film completely believable and mesmerizing.
The supporting cast also delivers the goods, with Kelly Reilly leading the charge as Nicole, a drug addict that Whitaker meets while in the hospital. Reilly has some tough scenes to deliver, but she comes out shining. Greenwood and Cheadle both have great chemistry with Washington, as all three come off extremely well during their scenes together. While the subject matter is serious, there are some lighter moments that help change up the mood periodically, keeping things fresh and balanced. This is most noticeable when John Goodman is around, as he plays Whitaker’s friend – and drug dealer – Harling Mays. While Whitaker struggles with his demons, Mays seems to be the complete opposite, happy to live his life on a constant high.
Flight is a superbly told character-driven story that is only made stronger by a tour de force performance by Denzel Washington. Zemeckis really nails the tone and pacing for the film, and also delivers one of the most intense plane crashes ever filmed for a movie. This is a film that will linger in your thoughts long after it’s over, and shouldn’t be missed.
The video transfer for the film looks superb, as Paramount really nails it again as far as their Blu-ray transfers go. The film is just stunning, with crisp, clean visuals that never bring you out of the story. The audio is also flawless, with wonderful sound mixes that make the crash scene that much more intense, and the overall film that much more engrossing.
Origins of Flight – This featurette runs at just over 10 minutes in length, and sees Gatins, Zemeckis, Washington and Greenwood and Producer Steve Starkey all talk about the film, the casting, how it all came to be and the usual things like that.
The Making of Flight – This feature is just over 11 minutes in length and sees the cast and crew all talking about the performances in the film, the subject matter, what it was like working with Zemeckis, how Washington prepared for his role as a pilot, building the sets, etc…It’s an interesting, yet fairly brief look into the making of the film.
Anatomy of a Plane Crash – This one is just under eight minutes in length, and is definitely one that will interest most after they see it happen in the film. We see a lot of the crew, as well as Washington talking about historical plane crashes, how they put the shots together, various visual effects shots, and stunt work involved with the scene. While it’d be great to get a really in-depth look into everything, this brief look inside will tide over some viewers just looking for a taste.
Q&A Highlights – This is the longest featurette, where L.A. Times writer John Horn has the cast and crew (without Washington) lined up for a Q&A about the film. It’s interesting, and fun to watch. Of course Washington is missed here, but we do hear from him in other featurettes, which helps lessen the sting a little.
Flight is an unassuming powerhouse of a film that really delivers on all fronts. Washington is magnificent, giving one of the best performances of his career – which is really saying something. With the combination of one of the best plane crash sequences ever filmed, and the masterfully crafted character-driven story, Flight is a movie that will stick with you long after it’s done.
Paramount Pictures Presents Flight. Directed by: Robert Zemeckis. Written by: John Gatins. Starring: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood, Melissa Leo. Running time: 138 minutes. Rating: R. Released on Blu-ray: February 5, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.