By Dwight Brown
NNPA Film Critic
Grass. Booze. Cocaine. Veteran pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) hits the drug-abuse trifecta. And that’s just hours before he straps himself into the cockpit of a 50-ton jet, with 96 passengers and six flight crew members aboard. On the plane’s ascent from the Orlando, Fla. airport, he battles treacherous weather with blinding storm clouds and hurricane-like winds; his co-pilot gets so scared he nearly wets his pants. Fasten your seatbelts.
Washington often displays anger in his films (Training Day, Hurricane). It’s almost like being perturbed is his pet emotion and he finds roles to suit his disposition, or he gravitates to perpetually irked characters. Either way, when you fathom a Denzel Washington movie, you are likely to envision an angry persona. It is refreshing, almost novel, to watch him play a role that is far more nuanced and emotionally and psychologically multifaceted.
As the plane levels off, past the bad weather, Whip snoozes and the co-pilot (Brian Geraghty) calms down. The head flight attendant (Tamara Tunie) and her staff are about to serve drinks and snacks when there’s a malfunction. In seconds, a dozing Whip awakes and attempts to rescue his airliner from an abrupt nosedive and certain disaster. In most films, the daring flight alone would be a movie. In this instance, it is the aftermath, the retelling of the events, that causes enough consternation and drama to beget a compelling storyline that deals with values, morals, lying, falsehoods, drug addiction, alcoholism, family strife, and subterfuge.
The germ of an idea for the script came from the inquisitive screenwriter John Gatins, who had a fascination and fear of flying that lead him to research airplane disasters and rescues, such as the “Miracle on the Hudson” incident where Captain Chesley Burnett “Sully” Sullenberger, III guided US Airways Flight 1549 to a safe landing on New York’s Hudson River. The writer was also wrestling with inner demons, and hence the great personal conflict he projects on to Whip, who is in a state of denial that has cost him his marriage, the respect of his son, possibly his career and maybe a prison sentence.
isit Film Critic Dwight Brown at www.DwighBrownInk.com.