As a frequent flyer, this movie hit uncomfortably close to home and made me think about the men and women who make up the crew that serves on our nation's airplanes.
Captain Whip Whitaker is a cocky veteran commercial pilot who does the impossible by landing a plane that experiences a serious malfunction and crashes. He is hailed as a hero because he saved the majority of lives. However six people die, two flight attendants and four passengers. As part of procedure, the National Transportation Safety Board investigates the event to determine who is at fault. Whitaker is defensive and blames the crash on the broken plane but he harbors a secret; he drinks heavily and takes cocaine. His drinking and drugging has destroyed relationships and the one thing that he hangs on to is his job as a commercial pilot. While he is at the hospital recovering from his wounds, he meets Nicole, a drug addict and alcoholic who is desperate to turn her life around. They are kindred souls and start a relationship. In the meanwhile, his lawyer, Hugh Lang, struggles to keep Whitaker's alcoholism secret and out of the investigation. Slowly, Whitaker's life continues to disintegrate as he cannot acknowledge his alcohol dependency. Soon the NTSB investigation culminates in a hearing that will determine Whitaker's future and no one knows whether Whitaker can save himself.
Denzel Washington is riveting playing a man who wrestles with his demons and struggles to answer to a higher duty. I was horrified that a pilot could function so well under such a huge disability. You sympathize with Don Cheadle's character, Hugh Lang, who is desperate to help Whitaker keep his career. Bruce Greenwood plays the sympathetic and loyal friend, Charlie Anderson, who is helpless and bewildered in the face of Whitaker's alcoholism. Nicole, played by Kelly Reilly, is not fully fleshed out but it is the fault of the writing not the actor. The ensemble acting is top notch and I was engrossed at the NTSB's investigative process in determining who is at fault and how much does the role of the pilot and crew, the airline's maintenance, and the aircraft itself contribute to a crash. My stomach however clenched during the flight sequence when the plane was going through the turbulence and I was praying that I would never have to experience anything like that.
Originally published November 21,2012