By Roger Thomas for the SNAP
Monday, December 10, 2012 —
First, I want to welcome Robert Zemeckis back to the world of live-action. As you probably already know, “Flight” is Zemeckis’ first direction of a live-action film since “Cast Away” in 2000. Over the last 12 years he has only directed animated features, each of which I have enjoyed immensely: “The Polar Express” (2004), “Beowulf” (2007) and “A Christmas Carol” (2009). Of course, before “Cast Away” he made many very popular and critically acclaimed films such as three “Back to the Future” films, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”, “Romancing the Stone” (remember that one), “Contact” and a little film called “Forrest Gump.” I have missed Zemeckis’ live-action work, so once again I say, “welcome back.”
The first thing I would note about “Flight” is that Denzel Washington, who is extraordinary as commercial pilot Whip Whitaker, plays a very unlikable character. I did not get a sense of this in the previews, but throughout the film I kept thinking, “I do not like this guy.” There are moments that you feel sorry for Whip, but if I knew him in the real world, I do not believe I would want to spend time with him. And I found myself agreeing with those on screen who did not care for him either.
Of course, this may work in Washington’s favor. He is currently on the short list for Best Actor nominations. He has been nominated five times already, twice for Supporting and three times for Lead Actor. But here is the interesting thing: the two roles which garnered him Oscars, Trip the slave turned soldier in “Glory” and Alonzo the corrupt cop in “Training Day,” are both extremely unlikable characters. Perhaps that’s Washing-ton’s formula for Oscar gold, play a character who turns off the audience and you can’t lose. For sure, Washington’s performance as Whip succeeds and is worthy of another trophy.
There are other things about the film that work well. Supporting performances from Bruce Greenwood, Don Cheadle and John Goodman are all good. Goodman has had an incredible streak lately with a supporting performance in last year’s Best Picture “The Artist” and this year with “Flight” and “Argo.”
The climatic crash sequence is stunning, which is what we would expect from the man who placed “Forrest Gump” in all those historical settings. Zemeckis knows his way around in the special effects department. Some of the crash sequence has been given away in the previews, which is unfortunate. But there are still enough new elements to make this extended scene powerful and thrilling.
And there are some interesting subplots here which deal with religious faith, Whip’s family, addictions, legal maneuvering and the press. All of these things, among others, flesh out this story of fate and responsibility.
As I have written before and I often say, there is no greater experience in going to the cinema than discovering a film that goes in a completely different direction than you anticipated but ultimately proves to be more satisfying than you could have hoped. Far too often films give us exactly what we expect, and yet we go back to see predictable films time and time again. “Flight” is not one of those films. I appreciate that. I attribute much of that to screenwriter John Gatkins who also wrote last year’s “Real Steel” (which I found to be surprisingly fun). I contribute the rest to the brilliance of Robert Zemeckis. Whenever I hear his name connected to a project I get excited. So as much as I have enjoyed his three animated features in the last 12 years, I sincerely hope he’s back at home in the world of live-action features.