Joshua Reviews Robert Zemeckis’ Flight [Theatrical Review]

Over the past half decade or so, the films of Robert Zemeckis have slowly become a far cry from the types of dramas that created the early portion of his ever growing filmography. Still as envelope pushing as any Back To The Future or Who Framed Roger Rabbit, instead of being intriguing character studies they became CGI-animated spectacles never quite able to leave the uncanny valley. Well, the man is back, and arguably better than ever.

Returning to the world of live action dramas with the Denzel Washington-starring drama Flight, Zemeckis aims to give us not only a vital look into the life of a man struggling with both a recent tramatic event as well as his addiction to, well, everything, but also a meditation on everything from faith to dependence. Featuring a top notch script from writer John Gatins, the film may be as cliché-ridden as any studio picture, but it’s also far more emotionally and intellectually resonant than most pictures pumped out by the higher ups in Hollywood.

Toss in a Denzel Washington at his very best, and you’ve got a solid drama that is as much a crowd pleaser as any you’ll find in 2012. And so much more.

Washington stars here as Whip, a swagger-fueled airline pilot with a penchant for cocaine, buxom beauties, and any type of liquid inhibitor able to get his juices going. Following a night of what appears to have been pure debauchery, he and a beautiful young stewardess awaken, do a few lines to get up, and then take to the air. However, when a storm sends the plane to the ground, our lead pulls a miracle, saving all but six of the souls, and sending his life into a downward spiral. A court case looms, and despite meeting a recovering addict played by Kelly Reilly, things don’t look good for our hero. Is he one though? Was it an act of God that took that plane down? Or does this one man have to take responsibility for his actions? 

God weighs heavily upon this film. Without turning this into a theological discussion, a discussion about this film is not worth having without mentioning the man upstairs. Arguably the film’s main theme, Flight is its strongest when it not only focuses upon its lead, but when it looks directly into his issues with his faith. Ultimately a meditation on just to what level we have control over things within this universe, the film may be an addiction drama on the surface, but at its core it has far loftier goals. Similar in themes to something like Contact, another stunning faith-based feature from Zemeckis, Flight does no’t scoff at the idea of religion or embrace it blindly. Instead it’s an existential picture about man’s control of his life and destiny.

However, it’s also just a really intriguing character study. Introducing us to Whip, our lead, at his very highest (both literally and figuratively), we are then shown this man at his very bottom, and everywhere in between. Washington is fantastic here, giving us one of his best performances in years. Every single moment is given this distinct sense of truth, be it the moments of pure swagger (particularly the opening hotel room set-piece) or pure despair (the final court sequence is cliché but utterly heartbreaking), and it’s Washington’s range that adds it all to this picture. Don Cheadle is also great here as a lawyer, as is Kelly Reilly and Bruce Greenwood, all of whom come into Whip’s life and deal with his situation in their own distinct ways. Reilly is particularly superb as Nicole, a woman who is looking to get out of her addiction only to find Whip at his most uncontrollable. However, the real scene-stealer here is the continually brilliant John Goodman, who adds the film’s greatest sense of comedy and comes into the film’s final act like a cocaine-fueled breath of fresh air. He’s energetic and full of life, that you can’t help but fawn over ever line that pops out of his mouth. It’s a fantastic performance.

Visually, the film is top tier. The major plane crash that takes place in the first act of the film is a sight to behold, and the following sequences are tonally perfect bits of character study. Be it little touches like a kinetic camera move following a shot of Whip ingesting drugs or the numerous tracking shots found within the film, Zemeckis is at the top of his game here.

Overall, while the narrative itself and the journey it takes us on may hit every note you’ll think of while watching the feature, Zemeckis and crew have crafted one hell of a character study about faith and addiction. Led by a nomination-worthy performance from Denzel Washington, Flight is the perfect type of adult drama that Hollywood just does not make any longer.

Joshua Brunsting

Josh is a critic, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, a wrestling nerd, a hip-hop head, a father, a cinephile and a man looking to make his stamp on the world, one word at a time.

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