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John Rando on Robert Zemeckis’ ‘Flight’

Eye on the Oscars: The Director Preview

One of my favorite books as a teenager was a paperback titled “The Making of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.'” One chapter was my constant study and marvel. It described and detailed Stanley Kubrick’s shooting the scene that gave the appearance that a stewardess on a spaceship was weightless and literally walked on the interior roof of the space craft as it orbited the Earth. In Robert Zemeckis’ truly terrifying and astonishing movie “Flight,” a similar image now haunts me and is forever seared in my mind. The image occurs in the harrowing reality of Denzel Washington’s plane tail-spinning crash landing. It is a stewardess cowering in fear sprawled against the ceiling of the fuselage of a passenger plane flying completely inverted!

Despite all the brilliance of the plane crash sequence in the movie’s first 25 minutes, I found myself even more riveted by the true fodder for Zemeckis’ story telling: the moral ambiguity and complex human issues that transpire after a catastrophic event. I was entranced by the synergy between a director’s understanding of a deeply complex character and Washington’s performance of brutal restraint and profound denial. “I can stop on my own”; is his character’s agonizing refrain. But our hearts break with each syllable. We know to well he can’t. When he wakes in the hospital from the nightmare of the plane crash he cries bloody tears. Not until he finally admits to his shattering alcoholism do his tears finally flow clear.

I relished the genius marriage of filmmaking, acting and screenwriting (John Gatins) in so many of the scenes. But one stands out. It is a deeply painful and yet funny and strangely erotic scene that takes place in the emergency stairwell of the hospital. Cigarettes are covertly shared between three of the hospital’s patients: a heroine addict, a terminal cancer patient, and Washington’s alcoholic pilot. Against the alluring soundtrack of the Rolling Stones we are reminded that often times with the demons that torment us we chose the easy path of keeping them buried deep inside. We are either drawn to them or can’t see them.

John Rando, a Tony winner for “Urinetown,” directs the current Broadway show “A Christmas Story.”

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