Watch: John Gatins says ‘Flight’ took off when Denzel Washington signed on

Screenwriter John Gatins says Denzel Washington is the reason “Flight” got off the ground. Well aware of how difficult it is to get an R-rated drama made in the studio system these days, Gatins explains in a video chat with Gold Derby, “It really came down to Denzel Washington and director Robert Zemeckis wanting to do the movie, and the two of them pushing off their fees to make the movie happen.”

Flight” tells the story of a troubled commercial airline pilot (Washington) who heroically and harrowingly lands a badly damaged plane, avoiding a catastrophic crash and saving 98 lives. The film then takes a left turn as it delves deeper into his struggle with addiction and substance abuse.

This subject matter in particular was a personal one for Gatins. “I got sober when I was 25,” he admits. “Everything in my life was filtered through that life change I made when I was 25. I had my own personal inroad to it, and the whole idea of what that change in your life means for you when it comes to relationships and repairing relationships,” which, he recalls, was key to the heart of the film. “In the film, you see the wreckage of this guy’s past, and the weight that this guy has to carry around that Denzel did in such an amazing way.”

“Flight” has been well received by critics, garnering an approval rating of 77% on Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times) calls the film “nearly flawless” while Michael Phelps (Chicago Tribune) says the film is “terrific” because of its “sophisticated storytelling techniques.”

And now the film has started to rack up accolades this awards season, mostly for Washington, but also for Gatins himself, whose original screenplay has been nominated for a Satellite Award, and also by the Broadcast Film Critics Assn. Critics Choice Awards, which will announce its winners on Jan. 10. 

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