Stephen Frears satirized media sensationalism and ordinary citizen heroism in the 1992 film Hero, with Dustin Hoffman as a deadbeat dad too acerbic to convince as a man who rescued the passengers of a downed flight (in the public eye, that is). Denzel Washington’s weary-eyed, boozing pilot in Flight is cut from a similar cloth as Hoffman’s character, though Robert Zemeckis’ film gives a more personable and humane face to the target of the wider public’s judgmental eye.
Flight, as it were, has been… well, flying surprisingly low on the radar, considering that it marks the first time Washington has appeared in a non-action film since The Great Debaters in 2007; not to mention, this is Zemeckis’ first live-action release in over ten years (he was forced to abandon his planned fourth exercise in motion-capture, Yellow Submarine, following the failure of Disney’s Mars Needs Moms).
The original script – written by John Gatins (Coach Carter, Real Steel) – revolves around the heroic efforts of an airplane pilot named Whip (Washington), who pulls off a miraculous maneuver to avoid crashing his plane after a shocking mechanical malfunction. Whip thereafter finds himself under intense scrutiny from the public, once it emerges that he had alcohol in his system – which also shoves his troubled domestic life into the spotlight.
Both the trailer and new 90-second TV promo for Flight tease a welcome return to dramatic form for Washington, whose compelling presence has helped to elevate hyper-kinetic Tony Scott films (The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Unstoppable), stylized genre movies (The Book of Eli) and jittery-shot thrillers (Safe House). However, he has also been accused of coasting on his reputation, making so much B-movie fare these past five years.
Whatever your feelings on that matter (personally, I see the argument, but feel its ignores Washington’s willingness to bring gravitas to otherwise under-appreciated roles in pop action films), Flight stands to generate a stronger general reaction to the actor’s latest work. A heavily-damaged character like Whip lends himself to an awards-baiting performance, but Washington appears to be playing the part in a more understated and believable manner than that.
Moreover, Zemeckis does not appear to have lost a step over the past decade, as far as his ability to blend dazzling spectacle into a human drama is concerned. The plot setup for Flight recalls that for Cast Away – a horrific plane accident is the catalyst for a man’s transformation – but the former features a protagonist whose journey is spiritual, as opposed to Tom Hank’s physical change in the latter.
Cast Away and Flight, in that sense, are complimentary pieces which examine the effects of social isolation on a successful workaholic who had never before paused to question the value of his lifestyle (Cast Away) and wider attention on someone tormented by his life choices, who begins to find some solace from his professional accomplishments (Flight). Hence, Zemeckis may have chosen the perfect project to serve as his return to storytelling with pure flesh-and-blood characters.
The supporting cast for Flight includes accomplished character actors such as Don Cheadle, John Goodman, Melissa Leo (The Fighter), Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek), and James Badge Dale (Iron Man 3). Consider that the icing on the cake.
Look for Flight when it opens in U.S. theaters on November 2nd, 2012.