After a 12-year hiatus, Robert Zemeckis comes back to directing live-action films with a bang, in the adult-themed drama Flight. And just like the airplane crash depicted in it, it’s a spectacular and unforgettable one. Zemeckis has a habit of making full use of its main star, getting the best out of actors such as Jodie Foster in Contact, Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump and Cast Away, and even Jim Carrey in A Christmas Carol. Denzel Washington arguably betters them all with this master class in acting.
In one of the most memorable opening shots, a stark-naked air hostess, Katerina Marquez (Nadine Velazquez – TV’s My Name is Earl) and pilot Whip (Washington), are drinking and doing cocaine in a hotel room one morning before a flight. After much trepidation from co-pilot Ken (Brian Geraghty – The Hurt Locker), Whip convinces him that he is fine and this re-assurance is justified when he manages to safely guide the plane through turbulence during take-off, albeit in a gung-ho manner. It is only during its descent that things take a turn for the worse.
After an unorthodox manoeuvre, Whip crashes the plane into a field with few lives lost and, according to his lawyer Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle), no other pilot could have done so without killing everyone on board. The only problem with him being a true hero is, of course, the truth. Consequently, there’s a battle between the alcohol, his family, his friends, and most of all, his conscience.
There’s one important thing to note should you consider watching this: if you have a fear of flying, avoid the first half hour. The crash sequence is nothing short of jaw-dropping. Zemeckis has always had this eye for special effects; from the likes of manipulation of old stock footage with real actors (Forrest Gump) to performance-capture animation (The Polar Express). His understanding in this area shows with stunning effect. However, it’s not just the visuals which make it entirely convincing. The acting, led with utmost believability by Washington, captures the sheer panic and actions that one would expect in a situation like it. Put that together and you get one frightening experience.
Once you have got your breath back, the film moves onto deeper matters; Whip’s dependence and its role in the event. Running alongside the opening act is a sub-plot involving drug-addict Nicole (played superbly by Brit Kelly Reilly), and her appearance, although cut short somewhat, is vital in showing the flipside of battling an addiction in the face of tragedy.
The story constantly teases us with the situations presented to Whip; the opportunities are there for him to acknowledge his problem and exorcise his demons, yet he stubbornly refuses to come to terms with them. It borders on the frustrating, and this is one of the film’s drawbacks, with the middle act seeming like one long advert against alcohol. This includes another tiresome appearance by Piers Morgan.
There is, however, a fine supporting cast – John Goodman as Whip’s moral-less friend Harling, Bruce Greenwood and Don Cheadle as his professional and legal aides, plus a small yet pivotal role from Melissa Leo as Ellen Block, the aviation investigator. But you can’t take away anything from Washington because no matter how good his co-stars are, he owns the film.
With a similar feel to that of Leaving Las Vegas, Flight is guaranteed to make some sort of impact at the Oscars. Above all else, it ensures its two hours will take you on an emotional journey well worth the ticket.