Robert Zemeckis triumphantly returns to the land of the living with Flight, a soul-stirring drama about the demon of substance addiction and the grace of free will that stars Denzel Washington in powerhouse mode.
It has been 13 years since Zemeckis last made a live action movie (Cast Away), opting to focus on stop-motion animated releases (Beowulf, A Christmas Carol) which brought him mediocre success. Flight marks a welcome return home, with its story of a heroic airline pilot facing up to numerous personal demons proving to be the perfect project for Zemeckis to show off his midas-touch for character driven drama, talent for visually spectacular filmmaking and his consistent themes of religion and spirituality.
Portraying the pilot – Whit Whitaker – is Denzel Washington in what is his best performance in years. The film opens with Whip kick-starting his morning with the consumption of alcohol and cocaine, before putting on his flight uniform and taking the reign of a passenger airline. Hardly the stuff of professional responsibility, let alone a good first impression upon the viewer.
A heroic crash landing (that is sure to have many swear off air travel) places Whip is a beautifully written juxtaposition (courtesy of screenwriter John Gattins) which Washington finely portrays. On one hand we have a character of composed heroism that saves dozens of passengers through ingenuity and bravery. On the other hand he was living a lifestyle that would have eventually led to disaster, regardless.
The crash scene itself is an incredibly thought out and executed sequences that reminds of the technical brilliance that Zemeckis brought to Forrest Gump and the Back to the Future series. Zemeckis takes us into the cockpit, down into a nose dive, twists us in a loop both physically and emotionally, and gives us a front row seat as a passenger airplane crash lands into a field.
The true impact of the sequence is in its miraculous nature. Throughout characters evoke the role God plays in our lives. In Whip’s case not only did a miracle indeed take place, but his internal struggle reminds of the greatest gift given to mankind: free will. Whip struggles with a choice throughout Flight to either admit his addictions or live life under a dark cloud of lies and uncertainty, Washington playing the tortured soul to mesmerising results.
Washington has openly professed his religiosity countless times, yet has only recently displayed by his faith through his work (The Book of Eli being the other occasion.) Zemckis too has showed the nature of the divine in his works (namely Forrest Gump). In Gatin’s script both men not only found an outlet to profess their spirituality, but also deliver some of their best work.