Director Robert Zemeckis makes his dramatic return to live-action feature films with Flight after a decade-long foray into performance-capture animated films like The Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol. His last live-action film before this was Cast Away with Tom Hanks in 2000, which either coincidentally or ironically also featured a crashing jetliner.

Denzel Washington is on fire from start to finish here as Captain William “Whip” Whitaker, the alcoholic airline pilot who starts the morning of his fateful flight with a few lines of cocaine and a vodka and orange juice chaser. When the plane suddenly and inexplicably goes into an uncontrolled nosedive at 21,000 feet, Whip snaps into action. Completely toasted but otherwise cool under pressure, he instinctively executes an insane maneuver and inverts the plane to pull out of the nosedive and try to land it as safely as possible. The plane crashes in an empty field, but thanks to Whip’s deft skill and quick thinking, he saves almost everyone onboard except for an unfortunate six. He emerges from the incident relatively unscathed and a national media hero. But when they comb the wreckage, the empty vodka bottles are found in the trash near the cockpit and it throws into question Whip’s sobriety at the time of the incident and subjects him to possible manslaughter charges. In the ensuing investigation into his conduct, Whip continues his downward spiral into anger, depression, denial, and oblivion. Even the music over the opening credits tells us right away that this is going to be a somber experience, and the mood never lets up.

713flight.box.jpgThe HD picture earns top marks for clarity and sharpness all around. Textures and colors are crisp, clear, and even, with minimal soft blur to give it the familiar look and feel of 24 frames per second without the excessive grain of film. With present pinnacle standards of digital photography and special-effects technology, creating a realistic plane crash both inside and out leaves very little to the imagination. This is Zemeckis at his best, and he puts the viewer right in the middle of the action.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 also delivers the goods with equal amounts of gusto and subtle finesse. It may be stating the obvious here, but the crash sequence on which the film is centered is the auditory highlight and nothing short of fantastic.

Extras are on the light side and include three short featurettes that cover the making of the film, with one that primarily centers on the crash sequence. There’s also a taped Q&A with the cast and crew after a screening of the film. A bonus DVD and Digital Copy are also included.

The slipcase touts Flight as “action packed,” which I find a tad misleading. Beyond the intensely powerful and harrowingly realistic crash sequence, this film is a straight dialogue-driven drama the rest of the way. Tense, suspenseful, riveting even, but this isn’t Die Hard. Flight is excellent but isn’t exactly the feel-good movie of the year. If one of your phobias is flying, you may want to pass on this one. And if you choose to go along for the ride, it’s a sobering experience from beginning to end. No pun intended.

Studio: Paramount, 2012
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Length: 138 mins.
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, John Goodman

notabadname's picture

Airline pilot here. This film is painful to watch for a pilot, as it plays very loosely with the physics and mechanics of the aircraft and how it is crashed (and flown during that crash). That sequence is then followed by many gross errors and omissions in NTSB investigation techniques, Union posturing and presentation of the "lifestyle" of pilots and crew and a perception they would cover for each other in such a criminal event.

But if you are the typical layman, the crash is gripping and spectacular, and the drama that follows is compelling, if not stilted. Denzel's acting, as always, is top notch, as is the overall message of abuse, dependency and the hard road to recovery. It is just unfortunate they didn't have better technical advice to easily bring accuracy and authenticity to a fine underlying story arc.