Netflixed this 2012 movie (trailer) on the recommendation of a friend, and she was right that Denzel Washington gives a strong, persuasive performance as the alcohol- and drug-addicted airline pilot, Whip Whitaker. The first half-hour of the film, when his airliner gets in trouble, is “the finest and most terrifying plane crash sequence ever committed to film,” says The Atlantic (you can see the crash scene here).
John Goodman, as Whitaker’s dealer, is congenially over-the-top as only Goodman can do it. Just a bit obvious when he sashays in with the Stones’s “Sympathy for the Devil” in the background. Excellent performances also by Kelly Reilly, as Whitaker’s drug-addict girlfriend, Bruce Greenwood as the airline pilots’ union rep, and Don Cheadle as the lawyer the union hires.
Thankfully, director Robert Zemeckis and writer John Gatins chose not to include a lengthy and harrowing detox segment, which movies about addiction so often include (Ray, for example). I especially liked the solid contributions from the supporting cast—Melissa Leo, Tamara Tunie, and Brian Geraghty, in particular.
Real pilots, of course, find much to quarrel with—or laugh at—in the flying sequences, but they are not the point of the movie, anyway. They’re there to get your attention. If you’ve seen the movie, you might find this pilot’s assessment amusing (contains spoilers). The Atlantic piece objects to the theme that “a miracle” landed the plane, but I understood that it was Whitaker’s creativity, skill and nerve, even when impaired, that accomplished it. What other characters thought was what they thought. And, yes, some people do talk about miracles and “God’s hand,” because that’s the way they see the world.
If you missed this movie the first time around, for fine acting and an engaging plot, it’s worth seeing.
Rotten Tomatoes critics rating 77%; audience ratings 75%.