Robert Zemeckis decides that not every film needs motion capture and 3-D to make something worth going to the cinema for.
After twelve years away from making live-action films, Robert Zemeckis returns with a low budget, (for Zemeckis) low concept drama that is safe for audiences and for his return to the director's chair.
Denzel Washington plays William "Whip" Whittaker, an airline pilot who is an alcoholic and drug addict. How do we know this? Whip opens the film in a hotel room with flight attendant Katerina Marquez (Nadine Velazquez) after having a night of drunken sex. Whip needs to finish off his beer, take a hit of marijuana and a line of cocaine to get himself going.
Whip is responsible for a short flight from Orlando, Florida to Atlanta, Georgia. During the flight, Whip makes sure to have himself a bottle of orange juice mixed with multiple bottles of vodka. Upon descent into Atlanta, the plane suffers a terminal problem and appears doomed. Whip, being the amazing pilot he is, performs an aerial maneuver to try and save the plane and eventually crashes the plane into a field, killing six out of 102 persons on the flight.
Whip is then informed by Charlie Anderson, (Bruce Greenwood) head of the pilot's union, that an investigation is being conducted into the crash. High powered attorney Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle) is brought in Whip and Charlie to assist when the toxicology report on Whip comes back to reveal that he had drugs and alcohol in his system when the plane went down.
During this time, Whip and recovering drug addict Nicole Maggen (Kelly Reilly) form a connection and spend time together at Whip's father's home. Nicole is trying to straighten her life out while she watches Whip try to handle the investigation and try to cope with his alcoholism. Will she stay and ride this out with him or will Whip's continued behavior be too much for her? This really isn't a hard film to figure out.
It may seem like I am coming down hard on this film, and I am, but this is not a bad film by any means. This is a film based solely on performances and nothing else. Robert Zemeckis directs this film with no major flaws, though the plane crash in Cast Away was better, in my opinion.
Denzel Washington takes this role and runs with it. His performance, and most everyone's performance in this film is very solid. Don Cheadle has the most bland role as a man with no strings attached to this situation and tries to do his job the best he can. Denzel has a decent shot at an Oscar nomination and it would be deserving. I have seen better performances this year already, see my review of The Master, but a nomination would certainly be deserving.
The true standout for me was by James Badge Dale. I have never been a fan of JBD, especially in 24 or The Departed, but he steals the one scene he is in. JBD plays a man who has cancer and knows the end is near. He shares a scene with Whip and Nicole and provides the scene with warmth and humor. It is a shame we don't see him again as he completely stole his sole scene.
As stated, Robert Zemeckis and writer John Gatins provide us with a very safe film. This certainly earns it's R-rating, but Zemeckis and Denzel never push the film or Whip into too much of a dark area. This film provides a really good performance for Denzel and a safe return for Robert Zemeckis.
And it's nice to see a film directed by Robert Zemeckis where the characters have eyes that seem alive!