After dazzling movie audiences with such hits as 'Romancing The Stone', the 'Back To The Future trilogy, and 'Forrest Gump', director Robert Zemeckis took a long break from live-action movies and delved into the world of motion-capture animation, helming a trio of such films over the past decade. In 2012, Zemeckis marked his return to live action with 'Flight,' a movie that gives us the Zemeckis of old while showing he has evolved as a filmmaker. Much like Steven Spielberg's 'The Color Purple', where we learned the master filmmaker could do much more than mainstream blockbusters, 'Flight' is his transition movie – starting off with the Zemeckis of old (a thrilling, special-effects heavy air disaster) and morphing into something refreshing and new (a character piece on the demons of addiction).
'Flight' stars Denzel Washington as airline pilot Whip Whitaker, whom we find in the opening scene shacked up in a hotel room with one of his flight attendants, drinking, and snorting lines of coke. This is just hours before a flight he's piloting, but the fact that he's under the influence doesn't seem to affect his skills as he expertly maneuvers the plane through a heavy storm upon takeoff. Later in the flight, with a few more shots of vodka in his body, mechanics on the plane fail, but Whitaker calmly (and dare I say almost "soberly") uses his skills to bring the plane down as safely as possible. Six people aboard the plane perish, but both the airline representatives and the world at large agree: no one else could have landed the plane like Whip did. He's an overnight national hero.
While in the hospital, Whip befriends another addict (played by Kelly Reilly), who will wind up serving as both an enabler and a motivation to get sober to Whitaker at different points in the movie. When he leaves the hospital, Whip secludes himself at his family's deserted farm and it looks for a while like he's been able to kick his addictions. However, when he gets word that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has a toxicology test showing Whip had alcohol and cocaine in his system during the time of the crash, it drives him back to his old habits.
What makes 'Flight' different from most addiction movies we've seen before is that, for the most part, Whip is a highly-functioning addict. In fact, an argument can be made that had Whip not been under the influence during the plane crash, all aboard may have perished. There's even a scene late in the movie where Whip is required to snort coke so he doesn't appear to be drunk in front of the NTSB. Which is not to say that either writer John Gatins or director Robert Zemeckis are trying to condone drug use in certain situations. What they're doing is making sure their protagonist deals with his demons for the right reasons – not because he feels guilty for the crash, but because he feels guilty for living a lie.
Denzel Washington has deservingly been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in 'Flight' (please note, this review was written before the 2013 Oscar ceremony), and in any other year (that is, a year when Daniel Day Lewis doesn't perform in a movie) he would hands-down walk away with the prize. His performance here is stunning – taking a character that would be so easy to hate and making the audience empathize with him. In a film that requires him to be present in almost (but not quite) every single scene, Denzel doesn't hit one false note during his entire performance. He may not win an Oscar, but this may be one of his roles that movie fans always remember.
On a personal note, I am well aware of the backlash out there towards both Paramount and Zemeckis himself (who often cuts his own trailers, although I don't know if that was the case for 'Flight') in promoting this movie as another big action piece (with possibly a courtroom drama thrown in) instead of what the movie truly is. Yes, there is an argument to be made that it was misleading, but I tend to be a huge fan of trailers and marketing that doesn't give away the major plot points (and Zemeckis' releases in particular have campaigns with a history of giving away most of his films' stories). So just so no one is led astray by this particular review, 'Flight' is not a movie about a plane crash. It is a movie about a man battling addiction. I should also point out that it was one of 2012's best films. You can now consider yourself properly informed regarding this movie, and plan your viewing accordingly.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
A combo release from Paramount, 'Flight' lands on home video in one of those environment-friendly Blu-ray cases that houses both the Blu-ray and the DVD. A slip cover is included as well. There are no front-loaded previews on the Blu-ray; however, the otherwise bare-bones DVD is front-loaded with previews for 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation,' 'Jack Reacher,' and 'Not Fade Away.' Also of note: while I had no issues playing the Blu-ray on either of my stand-alone players (both manufactured by Samsung), I could not get the Blu-ray to play on my desktop using Cyberlink's PowerDVD 12 software – something to keep in mind if you use this program for your Blu-ray viewing at home.
Bob Zemeckis (with Don Burgess serving as D.P.) shot 'Flight' using the Red Epic digital camera, meaning the transfer here is taken straight from the digital source, and it shows. 'Flight' is a great example of shooting a movie on a digital format but still maintaining the look and feel of film, minus the grain. Details are sharp and skin tones as well as overall colors are properly balanced throughout. There's zero evidence of any edge enhancement, noise, or other video issues. Overall, this is a top-notch, reference-quality transfer.
The English track here is a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio one, and it really delivers when necessary. Obviously, the big plane crash sequence at the outset of the movie is where the audio is most active and noticeable. The track does a great job of making the viewer feel he or she is actually inside the plane with the characters during the disaster. Zemeckis (much like, but not quite to the extent he did in 'Forrest Gump') has peppered his movie with a number of classic tunes, and the audio springs into action during those sequences as well. There are a lot of smaller, personal moments in 'Flight' where characters are just talking, and in those scenes, dialogue comes squarely from the center channel. However, everything is nicely balanced, clear, and free of any apparent glitches. A really well-done track, getting no complaints from this reviewer. In addition to an English Audio Description option, the disc also contains 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks in French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
All of the supplements are exclusive to the HD version, so they are listed in the HD Bonus Content section that follows. This Blu-ray/DVD combo pack also includes a code for a digital copy of the movie, as well as one for an Ultraviolet streaming version. Also of note: almost all of the featurettes give away pivotal plot points of the movie (including the ending). It's highly recommended you watch them after you've viewed the film.
A powerful film tackling the demons of dependency, starring one of our greatest actors and helmed by one of our best directors, 'Flight' is worth owning on home video. The somewhat thin bonus materials keep this release from landing on the "highly recommended" runway, but the top-notch A/V transfer and quality of the movie itself means that most serious collectors will want a copy of 'Flight' in their home library.