After a detour into animation, the Forrest Gump and Back to the Future director Robert Zemeckis returns to live-action film with Flight, which starts with a plane crash but centres more on personal rather than airborne crises.
Denzel Washington plays Whip Whitaker, a commercial airline pilot whose skills and sang-froid help him save almost all of his plane’s passengers and crew after it goes into a steep dive due to a technical problem.
But the media and popular adulation his achievement triggers fall to Earth with a thud when illegal substances are discovered in his system.
“His substance abuse is the symptom of deeper problems,” Zemeckis said in an interview. “He was that way because he has deeper issues. He was using the chemicals, but it could have been anything: food, gambling, work. He just feels this sort of void.”
Flight is reminiscent of the 1970s, “that glorious period where people made really tough movies to watch, that forced you to sit there, because they took their time”, said the screenwriter John Gatins, whose previous credits include Real Steel (2011) and Dreamer (2008).
He says the movie took more than 10 years to come together. “We didn’t have a lot of money to do this movie. We needed Bob and Denzel to sign up to do this movie and kind of waive their fees. So many things had to happen and go right for this kind of movie to get made.”
Nor does Flight fit into a specific genre.
“At some point I had the idea of making the investigation a bigger part of the movie. But could I do that but still be faithful to his point of view?” Gatins asked. “I kept getting rid of some of that stuff and focusing more on just his story, his journey.”
Apart from the virtuoso crash scene in Flight, the tone of the movie is personal and intimate, with flashes of humour.
“Humour is very important. I have this approach to moviemaking that movies should be entertaining. That’s what you go to the movies for,” he said.
“It can be a very, very dark and serious and complex subject, but I don’t think it has to be exclusive or devoid of any humour or any action or any suspense.”
• Turn to page 11 for our review of Flight