Flight is Robert Zemeckis’ first live-action film since Cast Away. Much like that film, it is a big star feature that begins with a plane crash. Tom Hanks has given way to Denzel Washington, and the plane crash has certainly gotten more intense. Denzel, of course, has the added benefit of being able to act beside other flesh-and-blood human actors for the rest of the film’s run-time, he is in many ways just as isolated as Hanks was, hiding behind a veneer of aviator glasses, alcoholism and false bravado.

To the surprise of no one, Washington owns the screen and generally outshines all who attempt to come near him. The supporting cast, featuring Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood, Kelly Reilly and John Goodman, among others, does a workman’s job (though I personally wasn’t entirely sold on Goodman’s character) and allow Denzel to do what he does with this sort of character.

Flight is not a perfect film. It often recedes into the sort of grating Zemeckis schmaltz that has been a watermark for his post Back to the Future career. Luckily, the breakdown of legit drama to schmaltz is about 60-40 in the favor of drama, and that combined with the pure terror of the plane crash that opens the film makes it a worthy watch. It could be better, and it could be a little less formulaic, but what we have is well-directed and well-acted.