DRAMA; 2hr 18min
STARRING: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly
Automatic pilot: Washington
Denzel Washington makes a juicy villain and an even more compelling tragic hero: his alcoholic airline pilot, Capt. Whip Whitaker, is so convincing you can practically smell the stale booze. Whip is a consummate dissembler and a terrific, instinctual professional, even when operating with a skinful of vodka and cocaine, and his emergency landing of a defective plane, filmed with white-knuckle immediacy by director Robert Zemeckis, is masterfully judged. Of the 102 people on board, 96 survive and the captain is the media hero of the moment.
But this is not a story about the potency of instant fame — in reality, Whip’s life is a shambles. He’s divorced, struggling to connect with a fragile, recovering heroin addict (Reilly) and disastrously unable to stop drinking, even while his exasperated lawyer (Cheadle) battles the potential legal quagmire of a condemning toxicology report.
With forceful, shattered urgency, Washington gives a lacerating insight into the mind of a man see-sawing through the self-deluding death grip of addiction as his world disintegrates, piece by jagged piece.