Paramount Pictures

If one were to look at a list of director’s whose films influenced my childhood, such names as Steven Spielberg, Alfred Hitchcock, and Sam Peckinpah would be toward the top of the list.  

Also at the top of the list would be Robert Zemeckis, whose “Back to the Future” trilogy quickly became some of my most beloved movies.  As I continued to grow into my own with regards to recognizing names attached to films, Zemeckis quickly became one of my favorites and he was one of the few directors who I thought could seemingly do no wrong.  

However, in 2004, Zemeckis’ career took a turn for the more bizarre when “The Polar Express” was released.  I remember very clearly it was the first time I found myself disappointed with the director’s work and as his next two films, “Beowulf” and “A Christmas Carol” were released, I became confused as to what happened to the great director whose films I once loved. 

Now, I am proud to say, that after a strange detour from his more poignant films, Zemeckis is back and may very well be better than ever before.  His latest film, “Flight,” marks his first live-action film in more than a decade and if it is any indication, the director has more than a bit of gas left in the tank.  

“Flight” tells the tale of a pilot who miraculously saves more than 100 lives by preventing a plane from just falling out of the sky after it malfunctions. However, once the investigation of what caused the plane’s crash is under way, incriminating evidence that the plane’s captain was flying intoxicated appears.  

Denzel Washington plays the film’s protagonist, Captain Whip Whitaker.  Whitaker is an obviously conflicted man who refuses to acknowledge that he is an alcoholic as well as a drug addict.  Although the trailers promise the film to be about the repercussions of the crash on Whitaker, there is really much more. The crash falls into the background about halfway through the film to allow Whitaker’s troubled personality to shine through. Washington’s performance is outstanding, quite possibly enough so for him to receive a very well-deserved Oscar nod, and Whitaker makes for his meatiest character since playing in “American Gangster.” 

Also a drug addict is Whitaker’s new-found love interest Nicole, played by Kelly Reilly.  Nicole is addicted to just about every drug possible, but as the film progresses she gets the help she needs and becomes straight as an arrow, and is used to put Whip’s alcoholism into perspective; a plot point powerfully driven home due to Zemeckis’ strong direction. 

Although he may have been away from live action for quite some time, Zemeckis picks up where he left off with regards to his potential. “Flight” may be his strongest offering of his skills in career.  His shots are crisp and precise and always serve a purpose, never wasting time to be pretentious or adding unnecessary fluff.  His direction of the plane crash alone is worth the price of admission and makes the audience feel as if they were truly on board the doomed aircraft.  Zemeckis makes an already very strong script even stronger and may even be nominated for an Academy Award himself.  He certainly deserves to be.

Perhaps parts of the film could have been edited a bit more tightly to trim some of the film’s excess b-roll footage, but for the most part, everyone one of the film’s 138 minutes serves a very distinct purpose.  Fans of Washington’s, and Zemeckis’, films that have strong Oscar potential, or even fans of great cinema in general must absolutely check out “Flight.” 4.5 stars out of 5.

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