Denzel Washington About to Soar in "Flight"

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Directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Denzel Washington and Kelly Reilly. An investigation of a pilot's emergency landing saving every soul on-board, leads to a troubling discovery after his new-found fame as a hero which could land him with life in prison.
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures
October 29th, 2012

Denzel Washington About to Soar in "Flight"

-- Denzel Washington turns in an award-worthy performance as an alcoholic pilot and director Robert Zemickis returns to live action film with a splash in "Flight." The film centers on Washington's character, Whip Whitaker, an ace commercial airline pilot who performed a difficult in-air maneuver that seemingly saved the lives of all but six on board the aircraft.

The first thing that really impresses in a movie full of big impressions is the way the crash landing was filmed. It is reminiscent of some of the most frightening and chaotic plane crashes filmed, such as those found in the pilot of the television series "Lost" or the film "Alive." The way Zemeckis captures the terror of a crash reminds film fans why he has a great reputation in Hollywood.

The next thing that audiences will notice is just how much Washington is on screen, which is a good thing. Although there is a larger ensemble cast, Washington is the real star and carries the film. There are few scenes in the film that he is not a part of, but considering the bravura performance he turns in that is a good thing.

The bulk of the film focuses on the aftermath of the crash, where Whitaker's life is put under a microscope: first as a hero, and later as a potential villain. At first, everyone is led to believe that the way he maneuvered the plane to make it softly crash land was a life-saving technique. As more evidence from the fuselage comes to light, investigators determine that he may have been asleep at the controls of the plane, a result of his secret life as a highly functional alcoholic and drug user.

As Whitaker waits to see if he is going to be further investigated, he does make an attempt to stop drinking. In doing so, the audience sees how he unravels, and how his alcoholism goes from functional to something he can no longer hide. The movie may be titled "Flight," but very little of it is actually about airplanes or being a pilot. The job and crash work instead to up the stakes in the dangerous game of life that Whitaker plays every time he gets into the cockpit with a high blood alcohol level, mistakenly thinking that a line of coke he just snorted will counteract the affects of the alcohol he spent all night consuming.

The film, which was written by occasional actor John Gatins, has been in preproduction since the spring of 2011 when Zemeckis came on board to direct and produce. Washington inked his deal to play the lead shortly after, which had lots of insiders whispering about what kind of film could bring these two highly respected Hollywood players together.

By the fall of the same year, the rest of the cast, including Melissa Leo, John Goodman, and Kelly Reilly were also in place with filming slated for the middle of October. Principle photography took place in Atlanta to take advantage of the generous tax breaks there, which allowed the film to be made for $31 million. Zemeckis and Washington were so passionate about the film that they took a reduction in their usual fees to help get the budget down to a price the movie studio felt comfortable with.

The film marks the first non-animated film from Zemeckis since "Cast Away" took the world by storm in 2000. In that time, he has produced films like "The Polar Express," which is a great film in it's own right. However, since he took the turn towards animated fare over a decade ago, fans of his renowned work have pined for him to return to his live action glory. "Flight" is a worthy return for Zemeckis.

The movie is also arguably Washington's best performance since he won his second Academy Award for "Training Day" in 2002. All of his performances are excellent, but "Flight" sets itself apart because it isn't easy to play a functional alcoholic. There is a fine line with this type of character, and Washington rides that line like an expert. His Whip Whitaker is a mess, but not a pathetic, unsympathetic one. It is a powerful performance that has some critics whispering about another Oscar nod.

"Flight" has received mostly rave reviews from the few critics lucky enough to get an advanced screening or see it when it debuted at the New York Film Festival in October. The rest of the country will get to see what all the buzz is about when it opens on Nov. 2, 2012.