It's been a long 12 years since director Robert Zemeckis has been at the helm of a genuine live-action film. Since Cast Away in 2000, the director has chosen to fully immerse himself in the world of animation and motion capture, with fine efforts such as The Polar Express as well a few questionable endeavors such as Beowulf and A Christmas Carol. However, just like his new film Flight, Zemeckis returns to the real world with a remarkable landing and shows little hangover from his lack of live-action features over the past years.
Flight stars a magnetic Denzel Washington (Training Day) as Whip Whitaker, an experienced commercial pilot with a penchant for liqueur and cocaine. Being as high as a kite at the same time as piloting an aeroplane seems like a recipe for disaster, however Whip has been successfully mixing his love for booze and flying with a great deal of success for some time. On one particular flight, a calamitous event takes place, and against all odds Whip successfully manages to land the plane with only a minimal loss of life and is hailed a hero for his endeavors. What subsequently follows is a roller-coaster ride of intrigue, drama, accusation and self-discovery as Whip's is forced to confront his personal demons, as the root cause of the accident is investigated.
Zemeckis helms Flight with the upmost precision. Similar to a take-off, the film begins slow and steady with a nonchalant scene which could lead the viewer to question if they had perhaps stumbled into the wrong cinema screen. However, everything is done with purpose as the director gives us an insight in Whip's state of mind and character. We find the pilot in a hotel room, wasted from an obvious heavy night. In the midst of an argument on the phone with his ex-wife, we find out that he is about to fly that morning and without a second thought , Whip swiftly inhales a line of cocaine , suits up and struts out of the hotel ready to rumble. This disconcerting opening gives a quick and direct insight into Whip's character, and Zemeckis captures this effortlessly. In stark contrast to the low-key opening scene is the eerily realistic sequence that follows, in which the aircraft runs into difficulties. Whilst Flight is much more than simply a disaster movie, the director captures the terrifying moments with much authenticity and the sequence quite simply, leaves you with your heart in your mouth, and all credit must go to Zemeckis for his marvellous vision in bringing these terrifying scenes to life with such honesty.
Flight's shining light is without a doubt Denzel Washington, an actor who never fails to deliver an amazing performance. Despite Washington's decision over the past few years to simply accept a pay cheque and sashay through bog standard action thrillers such as Unstoppable and Safe House, the actor has demonstrated the ability to still deliver great performances, even in average films. So the combination of a great director, a superb script with such a multi-faceted character in Whip Whitaker, the result was always destined to be an Oscar worthy project. Washington sinks his teeth into this role like a lion devouring his prey, and once again proves why he will go down in history as a Hollywood great. Denzel has this uncanny ability to be likeable in whatever role he plays, which is an attribute that could hinder a lesser actor. However his depth and range allows him to play a character who isn't the easiest to sympathise with, in a manner that really lets the audience understand and feel the pain and struggle that he is experiencing, even if you don't necessarily agree with the choices that he makes.
Relationships within the film are a key element and really give Flight an emotional edge and the performances of the superb supporting cast further boosts this already powerful film. Kelly Reilly (Sherlock Holmes) is excellent as a former drug addict struggling to get her life back on track. John Goodman (The Big Lebowski) excels as Harling Mays, Whip's long time buddy who helps the pilot to procure his drugs and really steals a number of scenes in the film with his wonderful performance.
Whilst Flight is essentially about an airline disaster, it's more about human nature, faith, mortality and ultimately redemption. The screenplay is powerful with some touching dialogue that really gives Flight a realism that is hard to find these days with Hollywood films. This is a superb drama with outstanding performances from everyone involved. Zemeckis returns with a sharp reminder as to why he is still firmly amongst the elite filmmakers in Hollywood and demonstrates his knack for poignant storytelling has certainly not been lost during his 3D and motion capture hiatus.