“Flight’s” storyline features one of the most harrowing plane crash sequences ever committed to cinema with a tortured antihero at the controls. But the film itself made a smooth landing in theaters and is cleared for another touchdown as it bows on Blu Ray.
Focusing on an alcoholic airline pilot and the downward spiral he enters after a heroic effort to save his passengers threatens to disastrously expose his considerable personal demons, the film signaled the triumphant return to live-action dramatics for director Robert Zemeckis (“Back to the Future,” “Forrest Gump”) after a lengthy stint in CGI filmmaking. It also features a potent performance from Denzel Washington alongside a powerhouse cast that includes Don Cheadle, Melissa Leo, John Goodman and Bruce Greenwood. Indeed, Washington earned an Academy Award Best Actor nomination, and the script by John Gatins scored a nod in the Best Original Screenplay category.
“Every once in a while, a director gets a chance to make a film where absolutely every person of that small army of people who collaborate on the film is completely inspired,” Zemeckis recalled recently at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, where he was honored as Director of the Year. “Everyone who's working on that project is on the same page, and everyone is making the same movie. And my job as a director is to keep that passion, that fire alive and burning, and that's what basically, I do. But that inspiration came from the written word. That inspiration came from the screenplay, and of course, that was the case with ‘Flight.’”
“When I read John Gatins’ screenplay for this movie, it's one of those rare situations where I couldn't stop reading – I couldn't put it down,” the director continued. “I was instantly passionate about making this film. When I read the script, I knew I had to make it. It was unique and bold, and it was harrowing, brutally honest and filled with complex, meaty characters and ripe with tons of moral ambiguity. I didn't only want to make this movie, I wanted to see this movie, and I knew that the only way that I was going to see a movie that was this fresh and new was to sign on and do it.”
“When I heard that Denzel Washington was interested in doing it as well, it was like the most perfect casting that I could ever imagine,” Zemeckis said. “Watching that cast bring that screenplay to life in the hands of actors as talented as the amazing Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle and John Goodman and Kelly Riley and the rest of the cast was just a thrill to go on set and see them work.”
Cheadle said that as much as he believed in the film, he was still taken aback by the critical and commercial reaction, “It was surprising, it was shocking,” admitted the actor, who plays an airline insurance company attorney trying to minimize the damage of Whitaker’s actions. “When I got my first check from the box office bumps, I was like, ‘Wow, the movie actually did something!’ I don’t think anyone anticipated the kind of performance that it’s had. It’s not the kind of fare that usually does well in American cinema, as we’ve come to know it – there’s one big dramatic piece, but it happens at the beginning of the movie.”
“It’s really counter-intuitive to the things you see coming out of the studios, as far as it being successful or setting some sort of box office precedent,” added Cheadle. “But when you have Robert Zemeckis behind the camera and you have Denzel anchoring it, and there’s a great cast that fleshed it out, people showed that they were ready to see something a little heavier. So I’m very surprised.”