Director Robert Zemeckis returns to live action filmmaking after spending over a decade of his time with advancing motion capture technology. Really, Zemeckis couldn’t have picked a better film to return with, because Flight is very much a human drama that gets by on its performances. Denzel Washington gives an Oscar-nominated performance that turns Flight into something truly special and something that soars high above its serviceable script.
Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is a pilot. He’s also a drunk. When he’s not flying planes he’s usually drinking alone or partying and doing some cocaine. He lives a wild lifestyle and part of that can be blamed on his inability to kick the bottle. He’s tried and he’s tried, but eventually he gives in and because of it he’s lost his wife and his son. He’s alone and almost always down and yet a deadly plane crash manages to kick start his life back into the direction that he’s been desperately trying to steer it in for years.
After somehow saving an entire plane from going down, Whip realizes that he needs to stop drinking in order to clear his name of any possible charges. The plane went down due to mechanical errors, but the investigators drew blood from each crew member, which means Whip’s going to go away for a long time if they realize he was flying drunk and high.
His lawyer (Don Cheadle) does his best to get him out of a lengthy prison sentence, but Whip realizes that he’s not going to be helping anyone unless he changes his ways. He meets a recovering heroin addict that tries her best to help Whip understand and accept his addiction, but like most addictions Whip quickly relapses.
Flight spends a good portion of its running time going back and forth with Whip as he battles his alcoholism. In the hands of any other director or any other performer I could see Flight wearing thin with its audience and slipping into pity territory pretty quickly, but director Robert Zemeckis and actor Denzel Washington clearly understand how to make this drama something much more personal and relatable, not just for addicts, but for people that have dealt with them.
It’s an interesting change seeing such a dark and unrelenting look at alcoholism, without ever passing judgment. Zemeckis is never worried about painting Whip to be a bad character and Denzel not once tries to push that button, instead the two walk a delicate line of reveal, never afraid to show us just how low Whip can go, while also reminding us that he’s trying his hardest to get himself out of this downward spiral.
Zemeckis surrounds Denzel with brilliant actors, ranging from the funny and effective John Goodman, to the soft and understanding Kelly Reilly. Every single person Whip interacts with changes him in some manner and it’s mostly always for the better.
The biggest thing driving Flight above and beyond its script is Denzel Washington’s performance. He somehow manages to wrestle up another Oscar nomination in a performance that’ll toss you all over the place. One moment you’ll be completely upset with Whip’s decisions and the next you’ll be nearing tears as Denzel sporadically sculpts Whip into a living and breathing human with a terrible addiction. Washington never takes the character beyond the point of no return, yet he rarely shows fear in revealing just how messy and nasty alcoholism can be. It’s an eye-opener.
Some might pass off Flight as a drama that relies too much on its leading man and that’s a fair assumption. Robert Zemeckis takes a fairly basic story and constructs it around Denzel Washington’s first-class performance. Some of the drama might feel repetitive and the soundtrack is certainly full of “best of” material, but that doesn’t take away from Washington’s ability to steer this film out of the stormy clouds of cliches and over-acting into something that’s both frightening and realistic in how it depicts alcoholism.
Paramount’s 1080p video transfer is remarkable. This is yet another shining example of how to exceed in transferring a film with brilliancy and consistency. Black levels are always spot on and detail is retained with great clarity and no real signs of noise.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track kicks off with a loud thud during the film’s opening crash sequence and yet it never really drops the ball afterwards. Dialogue is always sharp and clear and there are layers upon layers of active noise and ambiance throughout the rest of the film.
Flight comes with the following bonus content:
- Origins of Flight (HD)
- The Making of Flight (HD)
- Anatomy of a Plane Crash (HD)
- Q&A Highlights (HD)
- DVD Copy
- UltraViolet Digital Copy
The Blu-Ray is mostly padded with some light features, but all are presented in HD and the inclusion of a DVD and digital copy always help round out any package. I’d normally suggest sticking to a rental for this one, but I wouldn’t rule out a purchase if the price is right, especially since the picture is flawless and the audio is equally impressive.
It’s reassuring knowing that Robert Zemeckis didn’t lose a step during his motion-capture adventure that ate up a good chunk of his directing and producing time. His return to live action with Flight is another example of a seasoned director continuing to impress behind the lens. Zemeckis doesn’t leave a giant stamp on the film or anything, but his focus on detail and character-building helps make Flight so much more than just another Oscar-grabbing drama. It’s a real emotional punch to the gut thanks partially to Zemeckis’ direction, but mostly because of Denzel Washington’s raw performance.
Robert Zemeckis boldly returns to live action with a soaring drama that exceeds expectations thanks to Denzel Washington's Oscar-nominated performance and Zemeckis' ability to handle the subject matter with such cinematic class.