The new film from director Robert Zemeckis is a powerful drama that is more about alcoholism and addiction than piloting a commercial jetliner. Denzel Washington stars as Captain Whip Whitaker, a pilot who crash lands a disabled jet with minimal loss of life. It is clear to the audience from the start that Whip is a heavy drinker who is drunk at the time of the crash but to everyone around him, he's a hero. Things become more complicated when the FAA begin to investigate the crash.
Mr. Washington has never been better as a man struggling with the tragic results of his actions. It is an Oscar caliber performance of a man battling his inner demons. He is joined by Kelly Reilly in her biggest role to date, as a junkie trying to get straight. Their lives cross when both end up in the same hospital. Ms. Reilly holds her own with Mr. Washington in scene after heartbreaking scene. The film co-stars Don Cheadle as the Pilot Union lawyer and Bruce Greenwood as the Union rep, both trying hard to protect Whip from his circumstances as well as himself. John Goodman steals his few scenes as Whip's drug dealer and Melissa Leo, in a cameo, is seriously effective as the lead FAA investigator.
The crash at the start of the film is one of the most harrowing sequences of a plane crash on film. Mr. Zemeckis is a master director who knows his way around a special effect. The authentic look and feel of the crash will set your nerves on end. And When Whip testifies in front of the FAA, Mr. Zemeckis creates the same nerve wracking suspense without any special effects at all, a testimony to his direction of actors as well as special effects.
I could nit-pick John Goodman's "theme" music (We get it. It worked the first time. No need to repeat it. ) or the "call" of the mini bar in one scene but why bother. This is a serious, authentic, drama that is both entertaining and sobering at the same time.