Denzel Takes ‘Flight’

Courtesy ofParamount Pictures

After spending over 10 years in a world of performance capture animation, director Robert Zemeckis has returned to the live-action field that won him an Oscar nearly 20 years ago for “Forrest Gump.” While he’s mostly known for directing films that flow with brisk imagination in the worlds they’re set in, his return feature “Flight” is certainly something different than you may expect from the trailers. However, it’s certainly something that shouldn’t be missed out on for its uniqueness.

Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is a skilled airline pilot who manages to land the airline he’s controlling without crashing too violently. Of the 102 people on board, only six people are killed by the impact. Whip is initially considered a hero for his accomplishment, but an investigation of the plane crash by the NTSB could uncover his damaging addictions to both alcohol and drugs.

Fortunately though, the film isn’t entirely about the plane miracle itself, but more of a character study revolving around battling addiction and coping with one’s own morals. Those aforementioned elements are several of many that help propel “Flight” past its initially simple setup and into one of the better character studies of the year.

Washington is one of those few actors that can do more than just simply read lines of dialogue, and instead utilizes his body language to command the majority of his performance. This approach is especially applicable to the drunk, damaged soul of a character he portrays, and it shines in the most unexpected scenes. It really is an understatement to say that Washington is great in this film, because he delivers his most complex, riveting performance since “Training Day.”

Furthermore, a great supporting cast of manages to back up Washington, too. Bruce Greenwood and Don Cheadle make a great duo as a pilot union representative and defense attorney trying their best to make Whip’s story realistic in accordance to the NTSB investigation. British actress Kelly Reilly turns in solid work as a recovering addict who befriends Whip after the plane miracle.

John Goodman, in comparison to the rest of the supporting cast, takes full advantage of his extended cameo as one of Whip’s closest friends. He spews out one-liners left and right in the charismatic way he’s done throughout his career.

Helming his first live action feature since “Cast Away,” director Robert Zemeckis has made a commendable return to the field he made a name of himself during the ’80s and ’90s. By mostly forgoing his imaginative big-budget vision to a more compact mystery style, the film is buoyed by its unique performances – a choice that comes with numerous benefits.

On the other hand, Zemeckis’ previous work in Hollywood blockbusters lends a great hand to the film’s most thrilling and mysterious sequences. He manages to pack so much tension into the plane landing sequence, and it ends up being one that rivals the intensity and claustrophobia of the one in “Cast Away.”

The one thing that bugged me was the somewhat preachy nature set after the crash. The juxtaposition of several characters coining the plane landing as an “act of God,” along with the reinforcement of the importance of religion, got a little repetitive to a point where it begins to kind of shove the element down the audience’s throat.

Apart from that aforementioned misstep, “Flight” is a rousing, complex character study that features Denzel Washington at his best in a long time. Fans of Zemeckis should also be pleased at his long-awaited return to making films that don’t involve actors wearing weird suits and performance capture dots on their face. If you have a fondness for character studies or are a fan of either Zemeckis or Washington’s work, you should definitely give “Flight” your boarding pass for takeoff.

Rating: 4 out of 5