‘Flight’ soars on strength of character

By Sam Flancher

After a hiatus from live-action filmmaking, Robert Zemeckis, acclaimed director of “Forrest Gump,” has returned with “Flight.” An engrossing, often thrilling portrait of a conflicted hero, “Flight” is proof of Zemeckis’ maturity as

a filmmaker.

The film chronicles the story of Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington), an airline pilot who saves hundreds of lives by executing a miraculous crash landing. A toxicology report conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board reveals that Whitaker, initially considered a hero, had alcohol and cocaine in his system at the time of the accident. Faced with impending legal action, Whitaker is thrown into a destructive spiral. Dealing with his potential responsibility for the crash and his rampant alcoholism, he spends the film consumed by an internal struggle.

Zemeckis is respectful of his actors’ insticts. From the film’s opening sequence, which shows Whitaker’s cocaine-fueled morning routine, Zemeckis allows Washington ample freedom of expression in his commanding presence.

Washington is aided by a talented supporting cast—Don Cheadle, John Goodman and Kelly Reilly—who offer up bits of wisdom for Whitaker to consider. Small scenes of philosophical insight are peppered throughout the film.

In one scene, a cancer patient expounds upon the absurd nature of life in a hospital stairwell. During the crash scene, Whitaker’s copilot passionately discusses his religion.

Technically speaking, “Flight” is in top form. The film’s visuals are sleek and economical, telling the story without flash or distraction. The sequence depicting the plane crash is an astonishing display of special effects, which has long been Zemeckis’ calling card. The editing meshes well with the effects to instill a visceral sense of terror.

“Flight” uses its study of Whitaker as a treatise on modern-day idolatry. The media is quick to construct a perfect portrait of a flawed man and immediately drown Whitaker in praise following the accident.

In today’s era of sensationalist news coverage, Whitaker is forced to compare the media’s view of him as a hero with his own internal moral conflict. Reporters flock to the hospital and his home, hoping either to honor him for his actions or interrogate him about his complicity in the crash.

The forces that are quick to envelop Whitaker in admiration are equally hasty in their pursuit of a scapegoat. The interplay between these elements is a comment on Whitaker’s complexity.

“Flight” is not without flaws. The film often feels tonally confused and slightly falters as a result. Crowd-pleaser Goodman’s role as Whitaker’s goofy, boisterous drug dealer is a distraction in a film with heavy dramatic weight.

Zemeckis displays a keen eye for human compassion and emotion, instilling in his characters a complexity and depth. He uses them to ask questions about human morality and the role of a hero in modern society.