Film review by John Campbell
Good ol’ Denzel Washington. Even when he’s asked to be a drunken reprobate, you know that there beats within him a pure and honest heart. The last time I saw him he was saving some Hicksville town in Pennsylvania from being blown off the map by a runaway train (Unstoppable, 2010). This time out his character is a far less wholesome proposition.
Our first encounter with tattooed Whip Whitacker, commercial airline pilot, is in a hotel room with a stark-naked flight attendant (no, we don’t see Denzel’s penis – are you kidding?). He snorts a line of cocaine and washes it down with a Budweiser. Straight after that he’s flying 106 passengers and crew from Atlanta to Florida. Bashed by a storm, the poorly maintained plane comes down in a field. Four are killed, but it is only Whip’s astonishing skill in the cockpit that saves everyone else’s lives. Unfortunately, there are those incriminating traces of grog and drugs in his blood.
Director Robert Zemeckis is a polished, experienced director who might never win a prize at Cannes but can be relied upon to put bums on seats. As an alternative to the bloated blockbusters, this is absorbing, provocative and, for a pissed nation such as Australia, starkly relevant.
Typically, Whip’s problem is not with alcohol; it is with his own unwillingness to concede that he cannot control it. He lies to the world and he lies to himself before John Gatins’s smartly plotted screenplay delivers him to a climax of cleansing self-realisation. Washington is entirely believable, as is the flawless support cast of Don Cheadle as the company’s lawyer, Bruce Greenwood the union rep, Kelly Reilly, a drug casualty who helps Whip confront his demon, and John Goodman as Whip’s personal dealer in all substances illicit (the scene in which he prepares his buddy for the ultimate hearing is a scream).
An excellent movie, mature in understanding and sympathetic in its depiction of a deluded man owning up to the shabby truths that he has denied for so long.