Robert Zemeckis makes his live-action return following his trilogy of motion capture films (‘The Polar Express’, ‘Beowulf’, ‘A Christmas Carol’) with ‘FLIGHT’, with this year’s ‘Best Actor’ Oscar nominee Denzel Washington. The film acts very much as a character study, following Washington’s pilot, who after stopping a airline crash which he was piloting (by cork-screwing a jumbo jet in midair!), discovers that his live could come crumbling down as its discovered he has drink and drugs in his system.
To begin with Zemeckis as a director has not lost a single beat. In the first 30 minutes you think with its plot set-up this could go somewhere different. There is a real sense of technical naturalism with the camera movement, choice of cinematography and how he makes something very brilliantly hallow (and bravo the SFX team here), plane crash sequence. To some the crash is impossible (again he’s cork-screw’s a jumbo jet to get out of a tailspin), and its Hollywood going “overboard”, but to help you as a audience member to “believe” this set up, they wisely acknowledge that the crash and how it was done was down to a ”Act of God”.
The thing is though after this crash the film becomes more the ‘by-the-book’ Oscar-bait film. Every plot point and character just feels very ‘tokeny’. This is seen when Washington drowns himself in Booze, Washington then finds someone worse than him (Kelly Relly – who’s great but character never seems to ‘click’), Washington gets clean and then Washington faces a moment of make a break etc, etc. This all leads to your token ”For Your Consideration” message at the end to the Academy board. Now this works fine for a film ticking the boxes to get a Oscar nod, but just from the film’s opening 30 you can’t help but think the whole things feels a little underutilised. And there is some Biblical references which seems just placed into their without any real depth, again playing on this under utilization of what they could has had here (like I said how they survived the plane crash could be a ”Act of God” as the film points out, but never delves any more into this intriguing undertone and subtext).
However I think the films main problem is this. While yes it’s a character study following Washington’s pilot (and Washington is great and was worthy of his Oscar nod), his character when drinking becomes its personality. The thing is (and this is true from all best ‘screen drunks’) Washington’s character personality is never refracted though his drinking. And to me this makes it harder for you to ‘connect’ with Washington’s pilot, which is the fundamental point of a character study and piece.
Don’t get me wrong it’s still very much watchable for a film like this, but it’s a shame there is nothing as memorable as what it could have been. And brownie points to the screen stealing turn in one scene, of James Badge Dale, who been in a lot of major releases so far this year.