Flight, which is Robert Zemeckis first live-action feature film since Cast Away and What Lies Beneath in 2000 (with The Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol in between), tells the story of a cocky, heavy-drinking airliner pilot (Denzel Washington) who one day gets his life turned upside down (no pun intended) and must learn to face his own demons and the public's critical eye. Much more of a synopsis than this is difficult to give without spoiling the plot, because one of several extraordinary aspects of this film, is the atypical dramaturgy. The first half of Flight is a fast-paced thriller, highlighted by probably the single most exhilarating scene I've seen on film in years. The second half is a brilliant investigative drama centered around a scrutinizing character-study.
This means that the pacing is largely the opposite of what we're used to from conventional thrillers, and this may well be one of the reasons why Flight feels so remarkably realistic and intimate. Denzel Washington, who has to give a compelling performance - and delivers, seems to be fighting Zemeckis' (and our) scrutiny through the entire film; his character desperately wants to avoid us creeping under his skin for fear he may be compelled to do the same. It's a strong and insightful character-study, even if the final act of the film should have been trimmed down a bit. I'm giving Zemeckis the benefit of the doubt, however; he probably felt he had too much ground to cover, and his film is ambitious, dealing faithfully and thought-provokingly with several important issues pertaining to the film's main event (which I shall not disclose) as well as the characters' personal problems, which are viewed and discussed from a fresh angle. Alcoholism has been more frequently portrayed on film than most anything else, but never quite in this context.
Flight tells of an extraordinary incident in which highly ordinary human flaws and mechanisms are exposed and must be dealt with. And Zemeckis does exactly this, without shortcuts and without ever forgetting to entertain his audience. Along with Ben Affleck's Argo, this is one of the tightest American thrillers of 2012. My only complaint would probably be the ending, which while it's poignant and effective enough on its own merits, is slightly marred by a somewhat too recognizable political correctness. I could have done without the didactics, but for Whip Whitaker, I'm willing to concede it probably was the only way.