After disaster strikes mid-flight, SouthJet Flight 227 goes into an uncontrollable dive. Pilot Captain Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) somehow manages to land the aircraft – an aircraft which should have been unlandable. The media declare him to be a hero. However a storm is brewing. Medical tests conducted on Captain Whitaker after the crash show that he had a huge amount of alcohol and cocaine in his system…
After a wonderfully visceral opening detailing the moments leading up to and after the plane crash, the film shifts down a gear and transitions nicely into compelling drama. However it isn’t long until this drama slows… and slows and finally sinks into a mix of alcohol-fuelled depression and self-loathing. The film then only really picks up again for the emotional final act, where Washington faces a hearing to determine whether he is culpable for the crash or not. It’s a strange movie in some ways: a mix of action, slow drama and surreal Big Lebowski-esque moments such as John Goodman’s appearances – where he appears to the strains of Sympathy For The Devil and is usually there to give Whip alcohol or other ‘substances’.
Washington seems to lurch from great acting to being on autopilot but you can’t really blame him because there often isn’t much for him to wake up for. The story of addict Nicole (Mary Reilly) is woven around the crash and post crash story line, seemingly to add extra interest, but it isn’t long before this story thread fizzles out and she disappears. When this happens you realise she was probably only there to help flesh out the story and to help develop Whip’s character a little more through the relationship she forms with him.
Interestingly you do naturally find yourself routing for Washington, not wanting him to get found out. After all surely the incredbible manouerve he achieved, and the lives he saved are to enough to balance out his irresponsible drug and alcohol use? But if this was real and he wasn’t charged: on his next flight he could very well be carrying your family or loved ones. So yes this makes you think a little.
The end is very poignant and will touch an emotional nerve, but sometimes like being drunk, the first 30 minutes is the best part and most of what follows is easily forgotten. 5/10