Robert Zemeckis has been one of the better mainstream live-action directors out there during his long career. With a filmography as expansive enough to include Back to the Future and Forrest Gump, you have to admire Zemeckis’ work. Well that was at least true until he got boggled down in his motion-capture trilogy (The Polar Express, Beowulf, A Christmas Carol). While most of these films were decent, they definitely weren’t of the quality of his live-action films and the technology used in the films quickly became outdated. It can only be called a fail experiment. So it is with much relief that Zemeckis has returned to the live-action format with his latest film, Flight. Flightis a grand addition to Zemeckis’ filmography as it is gripping, well acted and ultimately poignant.
Flight follows troubled airplane pilot, Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington). As the film begins, he boards a flight that will be doomed to mechanical failure and ultimately saves most of the passengers with a miraculous landing. However, with six deaths on board, attention quickly turns to Whip’s alcoholic past. The film is directed by Robert Zemeckis and is written by John Gatins (a writer who has made a career out of subpar films like Real Steel).
With this film, Robert Zemeckis and John Gatins take a simple premise (a man whose skills as a pilot help him become a celebrity savior) and raise a lot of interesting questions with it. Gatins is somehow able to write one of the most compelling morally ambiguous characters to hit the big screen in recent memory, and the film is able to ask questions on such topics as religion, fate and redemption. While the film gives compelling answers to the final two subjects, it hits religion a little too on the nose (and ultimately never does anything with the subject by the film’s end). So while this film does try to do a lot, not all of hits. That being said, Zemeckis proves that a long stay away from the live-action genre hasn’t left him rusty. This is one of the more visually stunning films in his filmography despite action not being a component of the film after the first act. The way he is able to film Whip’s struggle with alcohol is quite stunning and leads to one of the more memorable scenes of the year (it involves an unlocked hotel room).
Also helping Zemeckis out in his return to the format is a stellar cast. With Will Smith not really focusing on his own career much anymore, Denzel Washington is arguably the only legitimate movie star we have left (and I’m not talking about the ones who are able to get the paparazzi chasing after them the most but the ones who can consistently rake in dollars at the box office). With this film, Washington combines his movie star charisma with an extremely layered performance. While he does get his big moments to shine, it’s the subtle moments where Denzel makes this performance shine. Also great in this film is Kelly Reilly as a drug addict. While her biggest role to date is only a small role in the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes films, she brings enough to this performance to hold her own against Washington. There’s also a slew of small performances that leave a mark in this film whether it be John Goodman’s funny performance as a drug dealer or James Badge Dale (this guy really has made a career out of memorable one-scene performances) as a cancer stricken patient.
Flight is a triumphant return to live-action filmmaking for Robert Zemeckis.
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