Wednesday, October 17, 2012


By D.E.Levine

A NYFF50 World Premiere

Director Robert Zemeckis has left motion capture films to give us a big film with a big cast.  Centering around Whip Whitiker, a middle-aged pilot and veteran who heroically crash lands a jet, the viewer sees that the heroics are masking serious behavior and drinking problems.

Whip, played by Denzel Washington, works for a Southern regional airline and when the film opens he's in Orlando, Florida after a night of booze, sex and drugs.  With the help of a little more of the same he takes the controls for 9AM flight to Atlanta.  With a new co-pilot (Brian Geraghty) at the controls with him, Whip boldly takes off in terrible conditions and sleeps through a large part of the trip.

Hampered by a terrible storm of pelting rain and hail with severe lightening and intense wind, viewers encounter a 20-minute nail-biting sequence during which looks like the plane will go down killing all aboard, but Whip does some phenomenal flying and seemingly unaffected by the booze and drugs when the chips are down, and with the help of some great special effects, Whip lands the plane with only a small number of casualties, including his lover of the night before, a flight attendant (Nadine Valazquez) who was working the same flight and was killed while helping a child passenger.

While Whip is hospitalized with only minor injuries he's visited by both his old buddy Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood) who is now a pilot's union rep and his drug dealer Harling Mays (John Goodman) whom he informs of his intention to stay away from alcohol.

At the hospital Whip meets Nicole (Kelly Reilly) an ex-addict hospitalized after an overdose.  Released and hoping to avoid the press, Whip seeks sanctuary on his grandfather's farm where the viewer sees him methodically pouring all of the beer and booze down the drain as he attempts to clean up his act.

Acting as sort of a "white knight", Whip rescues Nicole from eviction and takes her to the farm where they start a relationship.  But her intention to go to AA and achieve sobriety so she can rescue her life doesn't sit well with Whip for himself.  And while he rescues Nicole, Whip is totally unable to repair the relationship with his own family and remains alienated from his teenage son.

Sobriety doesn't last long, especially when Whip learns that toxicological tests reveal the alcohol and drugs in his bloodstream during the flight.  Such a revelation could result in serious jail time for Whip.

Whip is represented by Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle), a strait-laced high-power attorney brought in by the pilot's union who has figured out how to get Whip exonerated if he behaves himself.  Unfortunately, ripe with self  denial, Whip is unhappy enough to hit the bottle again and turn to drugs in order to make it to his public hearing.

His public hearing and his inquisitor (Melissa Leo) bring about some unexpected turn of events and
prove the true mettle of the man.  The ending is completely surprising and definitely gives the viewer something to think about.

Zemeckis hasn't lost his touch.  This may not be action capture but he makes it totally believable with his direction and the excellent performances and special effects.