Flight is a powerful examination of human nature and addiction. It is a veneer-less reveal of the grip alcohol and drugs can have on someone, and how that grip can hide just beneath the surface. Directed with care by Robert Zemeckis (Forest Gump) and with a powerfully nuanced and unflinching performance by Denzel Washington, Flight is excellence on every level and a surprisingly candid and contained view of one man’s unraveling.
Studio: Paramount Pictures
US Rating: R for Drug and Alcohol Abuse, Language, Sexuality/Nudity and an intense action sequence
Film Length: 138 Minutes
Video: MPEG-4 AVC 1080P High Definition
Aspect Ratio: 2.4:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, French/Spanish/Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese
Release Date: February 5, 2013
Review Date: February 3, 2013
“Hey, don't tell me how to lie about my drinking, okay? I know how to lie about my drinking. I've been lying about my drinking my whole life”
Whip Whitaker enters the cockpit of his plane, ready to safely fly 102 souls to their Florida destination, despite the storm conditions. He is high on cocaine, still drunk from the night before and operating on barely any sleep. It is a regular day for Whip. During the flight, the plane begins to nose dive. Dropping out of the sky at terrifying speed, Whip maintains an experienced calm, maneuvering the massive jet into a bizarre inverse position, controlling the crash and saving lives. It is the beginning of the end. Surviving the plane crash relatively unscathed, it is the aftermath and his fall from grace as a hero of the crash where Whip suffers his greatest pains. Whip’s condition at the time of the flight, his part in the heroics, and the demons he faces become an unstoppable spiral into which he is thrust.
It has been 12 years since Robert Zemeckis took the reins of a live-action film. His last, Cast Away, was a commercial and critical success for which the plot catalyst was a visceral and violent plane crash. Interesting that his return to live-action storytelling would pivot on that same type of event, though Flight is a wholly different experience. One might have expected the intervening years between Cast Away and Flight – making motion capture animated features (Beowulf, A Christmas Carol) – would have influenced his filmmaking style in a materially outward way, but if there has been any effect at all, it is that he sought a grounding of his treatment of the material; a more natural embrace of the drama at hand, and a heightened gift for drawing out superb performances.
Denzel Washington’s Academy Award nominated portrayal of Whip Whitaker is brilliant. A tortured soul with the hero and the villain of who he is and what he did grappling for dominance as the story unfolds. It is a performance of intimacy and weight with Washington at his very best. We watch the character of Whip very closely. He is the forefront of the story as the turmoil of the NTSB investigation, and the light shining on Whip’s woes plays out around him, and we can’t take our eyes off of how Washington becomes the troubles man.
Denzel may be the central figure of this film, but he is surrounded by a fine ensemble supporting cast. Bruce Greenwood as Charlie Anderson, Whitaker’s good friend, is solid as always, and Don Cheadle as Hugh Lang, the chief lawyer and strategic protector of Whitaker and the interests of the Airline union, plays his moral vacillation of Whitaker’s vices very directly. Stealing the show in the few scenes he appears is John Goodman, as Harling Mays. Goodman delights serving as Whitaker’s dealer and his lure into the devilish (and dangerous) delights of life. He provides the dark comedic vein, the enabler to Whitaker’s demons earning smiles despite the kind of man he is. The rest of the cast includes talents like Kelly Reilly, Melissa Leo, and Brian Geraghty who, as the co-pilot on the tragic flight, plays two quite important roles in the context of the story, neither particularly subtle in the grand scheme of things, but key nonetheless. The first is the representation of fear. His reaction to the plane going down serves as the embodiment of the audience reaction. The second is as the quintessence of the occasional religious overtones the film displays. I say overtone, but in reality is plays more like a character in the film though likely not in the way you might expect. It is present throughout – from the consideration of the crash as an “act of God” to the attendance of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, but always as merely a mention and not pushed or forced. It isn’t preaching – not by any stretch – but it is interesting how it plays.
Flight was written by John Gatins who earned an Academy Award nomination for his screenplay. Gatins’ work is an astutely natural and honest achievement, the product of great insight into human nature, official process and the toll substance abuse has on the abuser and those around them. Though he finds himself in tough competition with the likes of Django Unchained, Amour and Zero Dark Thirty, his place among the nominees is well-earned.
Shot digitally using the Red Epic Camera, Cinematographer Don Burgess keeps the proceedings grounded. A natural feel in lighting inside and outside are dominant and the overall level of detail and clarity is exemplary. One scene demonstrates perfectly just how flawless the image is. Don Cheadle is standing with Denzel Washington overlooking the field where the crash took place. The detail on Don Cheadle’s face and clothes even in the mostly medium shot is wonderful. Flesh tones throughout are natural, detail observable even in darker, quieter scenes, and there are no issues – banding, digital tinkering – to sully the experience. An excellent image.
Flight contains a relatively quiet soundtrack save for litter of classic songs and the sounds of crash and the hum of the jet engines, but the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is entirely appropriate to the picture. Clearly the crash sequence is the most active scene for the audio, and it is pulled off with a great clarity in the audio as everything from the subwoofer to the surrounds plays a key part in gripping us. A character-driven, dialogue heavy film where the conversations are of enormous importance, the audience is pulled in by the natural levels and these levels are not overpowered by ambient sounds. The balance is subtle and superb for the film and Alan Silvestri provides a sweet and fitting underscore (I do prefer this Silvestri over the bombastic, action-oriented composer responsible for films like The Avengers and Captain America)
Paramount Pictures delivers just the bare minimum of special features for the release of Flight on home video, with just about 40 minutes of extras; a shame given the superb craft on display in the film itself and the opportunity to share more of what it took to bring this memorable picture to fruition. The Origins featurette covers where the idea for the story came from and the short Making Of discusses the short production shoot and modest budget. Anatomy of a Plane Crash is an examination of that key scene and the Q&A highlights is relatively interesting. A code to own a cloud/digital version of the film is also available.
Disc One – Blu-Ray
Feature film in High Definition
Origins of Flight
The Making of Flight
Anatomy of a Plane Crash
Disc Two - DVD
Feature film in Standard Definition
In Flight, Denzel Washington’s character’s unexpected journey takes off when the plane comes crashing down. His flight becomes a harrowing personal journey riddled with withdrawal, personal shame, grief and the struggle for redemption. Like all great dramas, not all the pieces are in place when the credits begin rolling, but we are better for having flown with Whip, even if it was just for a while.
Flight comes highly recommended.
Overall (Not an average)