I had been pushing aside watching this movie for months...I don't know how many times I stood at the theater ticket booth, wondering if I should see it. I'm not a huge fan of anything with crash scenes. No matter how well or poorly they are done, they freak me out. But Denzel is a great actor, and he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar in this one, so we finally grabbed it on Netflix.
Whip Whitaker (Washington) enjoys a night of debauchery in an Orlando hotel with a airline stewardess, drinking, having sex, and snorting coke, before getting up the next day to fly a plane carrying 100 souls to Atlanta. Before he straps in, he sneaks a couple of those cute little bottles of vodka into his OJ for the road. It is obvious to the viewer that Whip has participated in this type of behavior before, and seems to have mastered the art of functioning under the influence.
Mid-flight, the airplane suddenly experiences some kind of catastrophic equipment failure, goes into a nosedive and loses both engines. The previously napping captain kicks into action, rolls the plane upside down to slow the descent, and expertly glides in for a landing in a field. Six lives were lost, but all agree it could have been much worse, and that the act of flying a plane inverted was a skilled and ballsy move. (This scenario was actually based on the January 31, 2000 crash of Alaska Airlines 261, however the inversion of the plane did not succeed in stabilizing the nose-dive. Made the mistake of researching on YouTube...bad move.)
Then they get Whip's toxicology reports and learn that he performed this miraculous act severely under the influence. Whip hides from the press at his father's farmhouse with a recovering heroin addict that he met in the hospital (Kelly Reilly). His ex-wife and son reject him, because they are fed up with his addictions and lies. He still turns to the drug and the drink to escape, with the help of his trusted drug dealer (John Goodman). And the authorities want to put him in prison for the rest of his life. He is faced with some moral dilemmas. Can he stop abusing himself long enough to withstand the hearings? Does he attempt to lie his way out of this? Does he need help?
I guess I would agree that Denzel probably deserved a nomination for his role in this movie. But I can't say that I enjoyed watching a slightly pudgy version of him getting wasted for the entire length of the film. It left me feeling disgusted and sick. Hey, I'm not thin-skinned...you know this. But there are some well-acted films that just aren't fun to watch (ironically they are usually loved by old Oscar). Like...Leaving Las Vegas, The House of Sand and Fog, or Precious.
Plus the crash scene left me rattled. They always do. The Grey? Alive? Castaway? I usually have to step away for a minute and collect myself, and this one was no different.
I did enjoy the bit parts played by Kelly Reilly and John Goodman. Reilly hasn't had any significant roles that I can discern, but I liked her presence. And she is gorgeous, in a non-flashy way, like the next Amy Adams.
And what can you say about Goodman? He amazes me. I almost said that he was "having a moment", but actually he has been having moments for over thirty years. His part in this movie is very small, breezing on-screen, all no-nonsense with his coke and porn mags and quickly breezing off, but he leaves an impact.
Despite the movie's overall darkness, I did like the way it ended. I'm not sure I will ever want to watch it again, but give Zemeckis and the screenplay writer (who also got an Oscar nom) credit for taking the high road.
4 out of 5 stars