Normally, a film about alcoholism, or any addiction for that matter, must be careful as not to fall easy prey to the inherent cliché that comes with such awkward territory. More often than not, this very thing will happen, and the film in question will end up as mere preachy, pedantic claptrap, worthy of not much more than one of those afterschool specials of yesteryear. And to be honest, I would not have expected a filmmaker such as Robert Zemeckis, the man who gave us the ridiculously shallow chestnut dressed in inexplicable well-received and Oscary clothing, Forrest Gump, to be able to maneuver around such a pandering mine field as is the genre, and create something real, something human, but will wonders never cease, because with Flight, his sixteenth film, and first foray into live action in more than a decade, the director manages to not only do that very thing, but also is able to hand over his best damn film, though in a much different manner, since the rubbery brilliance that was Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Of course, considering many of the rather annoying films the director has made between then and now (Castaway, Beowulf, A Christmas Carol), it would not take much effort to be the best one, but even with that in mind, Zemeckis does a surprisingly good job with this one. At times, and in certain moments, it almost appears as if this were a film directed by the likes of a Martin Scorsese or a Spike Lee. But apparently It is indeed Bobby Zemeckis. Then again, much of the well-deserved accolades must go to Zemeckis' star, Denzel Washington, who hands in his own best performance in many a year.
Washington's proud but emotionally-battered drunk is the type of character, just as is the genre of the film, that can more oft than not be played too broad, and therefore too unrealistic - too cliché if you will. Washington treads this slippery slope with the kind of expertise the actor put into such performances as Pvt. Trip in Glory, Bleek Gilliam in Mo' Better Blues, Alonzo Harris in Training Day and the title characters in both Malcolm X and The Hurricane. Here he plays a commercial pilot who heroically crash lands a plane that malfunctions, managing to save almost every soul on board. It later comes out that he had both alcohol and cocaine in his system when the crash occurred. The irony being that even though his condition was not the cause of the malfunction, Washington's pilot should not have been in the air under the influence, but at the same time he is heralded as the only pilot who could have successfully pulled off such a landing. Pulling off their own high wire act, a high wire act such as this, especially inside a potential powder keg of cliché and emotional manipulation, both Zemeckis and Washington come off as doing the seemingly impossible as well. Granted, that aforementioned emotional manipulation does rear its so-called ugly head now and again - especially in the needlessly tacked on last ten minutes or so - but it is mostly kept in bay by Washington's head-on performance and, believe it or not, Zemeckis' pin point direction. Hats off to ya.