Okay. So i know i missed the boat (plane) on this one, and I’m way late, but I just saw this movie. So i’m writing this review.
This movie, which was “inspired by true events” which honestly can mean that a screenwriter heard someone say the phrase ‘alcoholic pilot’ once, then wrote this movie, was really good I thought.
Denzel Washington (who has more emotive depth than the rest of the population combined) stars as ‘Whip,’ an alcoholic pilot who gets on a flight where the plane starts to fall apart. He does an amazing job and lands the plane with only 6 casualties out of 102 people, well done Denzel. But, when a plane crashes people kind of want to know why so there’s this investigation into everything, including him.
He seems to be evading things well, the toxicology report gets thrown out, everyone testifies to his character, the plane really did fuck up, etc. But wait okay let’s rewind and lay some groundwork so that when we find out he confesses under oath for something he could have walked for, it means something.
He has an ex-wife and a 15 year old son that he doesn’t speak to. Props to this movie for making the kid an age where they have a personality and a stake in things. Usually the “kid” is like two years old and I think it’s a plot simplification so the writers don’t have to consider another person. The movie opens with him waking up next to a woman with the most perfect body I’ve ever seen, who we later learn is a stewardess in his flight crew named Trina. She is an important puzzle piece we later learn!!
There’s also a tangential plot-line following a very pretty redhead southern belle/heroin addict named Nicole. She’s having a rough time as heroin addicts usually do, and she ends up in the hospital because she shoots up this really heavy heroin that she was only supposed to smoke. There’s a very sad scene right before this where she’s meeting up with her dealer but she’s sitting in her car and she called someone and we can hear it ringing and she keeps saying, “please don’t pick up, please don’t pick up” and it’s such an odd situation, who is she calling and why doesn’t she want them to pick up so bad? But when we find out it’s her dealer it’s heartbreaking.
When she goes over to get the drugs she doesn’t have enough money and the guy is shooting a porn and he keeps trying to convince her to be in it but she won’t, and she walks away and he follows her and gives her some stuff on goodwill. I LOVED THIS for two reasons- 1. VERY RARELY are women who are addicted to drugs portrayed as having any self-control/”morality” and it’s often assumed that any woman will trade sex for drugs if she’s really addicted. Otherwise, she’s not addicted. I love that this showed that you can have an addiction but still have lines you don’t cross- MOST people are like this, it’s just not advantageous to portray it that way in movies. You know for voyeurism. I also liked that her drug dealer was a real person who seemed to care about her, he asked after he gave her the stuff, “what’s going on with you? I thought you quit” and was generally a real person, not some incarnate evil. Again, movies often reduce people to stereotypes for simplistic/easy storytelling (she’s spineless, he’s evil) but this portrayal was more realistic and I thought they did an excellent job.
Nicole and Whip meet in the hospital, he’s recovering from the crash, she from her overdose. They meet in a stairwell and are introduced through a cancer patient who stole the whole movie in my opinion- he was like the woman in Midnight Cowboy who was on screen for two minutes and thirty-eight seconds but won the Oscar. He had this monologue about how God gives you cancer and how people think you have this wisdom because you’re close to death. He walks a fine line between “crazy” and prophetic, which seems to be exactly what he was explaining. Well done.
Oh, that’s another thing: G O D. God had a BUNCH of cameos in this movie, and by that I mean, EVERYONE was talking about God left and right. Don Cheadle got “act of God” added to the possible reasons for the crash, Whip’s co-pilot and his overzealous girlfriend made him pray with them in the hospital and accept that the crash was preordained, in fact, everyone seemed to agree that the crash was preordained. The plane crashed into a Baptist church and all the members of the church helped pull people out/prayed at the crash site every day after, etc.
This was kind of weird to me, it seemed odd that it was so prevalent yet unexplained. Yes, this movie took place in the south and yes, lots of people believe in God but I don’t know, it just seemed weird. Also we never got a full rundown on what Denzel believes in the movie, so I couldn’t tell whether he was buying all that or if it was just making him feel more alienated.
This movie had great casting choices, from Don Cheadle as the excellent (and underused) appointed lawyer, to John Goodman as the ponytailed coke dealer/best friend of Whip. Nicole (Kelly Reilly) was great too, everyone was good.
This movie also did a really good job at building tension- the plane ride in the beginning before the crash, there was a turbulent take-off and it was SO NERVE WRACKING more so than the later crash. It was so REAL. How many times have you been on an airplane and pictured your demise? Well, to make the pilot a coked up alcoholic adds a lot of anxiety to the viewing of that scenario, for a lot of people it’s literally their worst fear. And later in the hotel before the hearing, Whip’s been staying with his friend Charlie (another great performance) and he hasn’t had a drink for nine days (4 hours and 26 minutes but who’s counting) and it’s like 2:00 in the morning and he keeps hearing this banging and it’s the adjoining hotel room door and he goes in there- mind you, he already checked his mini fridge but it’s just soda, but this room doesn’t have an alcoholic pilot on trial staying in it, in fact no one is staying in it, so it’s like Jim Morrison heaven in there and there’s a shot where he takes out a mini bottle of vodka, smells it, closes it, puts it on the counter, and you’re trying to figure out what he’s gonna do while the frame just rests, then he grabs it.
And they don’t document this relapse, they just show everyone coming to his door the next morning and he’s passed out in the bathroom, there’s blood on the toilet and both rooms are wrecked. (Slightly overdone, but whatever).
But then John Goodman comes over and does a quick fix with some cocaine (apparently a “cocoa puff” aside from being a delicious breakfast food, is also a cigarette with a bump of cocaine on the end of it #TheMoreYouKnow).
So he’s miraculously in shape for this hearing and they go down, and everything is going his way, they’ve shown the blackbox recordings of his maneuvers, they’ve testified that they simulated the flight with 10 other pilots and not a single one was able to land the plane without crashing and killing everyone, the only thing left is that there were two mini bottles of vodka in the trash. Since drink service was suspended, the only people who had access to the alcohol were the crew. His toxicology report was thrown out and everyone else’s came back clean EXCEPT for Trina who died in the crash and who we find out in the trial, was a struggling alcoholic. (I TOLD YOU IT WOULD ALL COME BACK TO TRINA). So, since she’s dead, and her toxicology report came back .17, all he had to do was say that it was his opinion that she drank the vodka- that’s how they phrased the question, “Is it your opinion that Ms. Marquez drank these bottles of vodka?”
But he can’t and bless him for that. Earlier, when he went to an AA meeting with Nicole, the guy at the podium was talking about how he lied to everyone about his drinking and that was too much for Whip, he left at that point. And right after he confesses on the stand to being an alcoholic (“I was drunk on that flight, I was drunk in the days leading up to that flight, and I’m drunk right now. Because I’m an alcoholic”) it cuts to him at an AA meeting in prison where he explains he reached his lifetime quota for lies, he said he felt like he just couldn’t tell one more lie. Even though he would have walked. Good ole fashion ethics. We may not all be god-fearing but we have a moral compass damnit.
Also, another choice that I LOVED was that in the last scene, in prison they tell him he has a visitor and you feel like it’s going to be Nicole because romance or whatever, but it’s his SON and they hug and he says he wants to interview him for a college essay he has to write and Denzel goes, “so what’s this essay on then?” and his son says, “we have to write it on the most fascinating person we’ve never met.” BOOM and everyone starts crying. And by everyone, I mean myself and Denzel. Ugh, so perfect. Because we already know he’s still with Nicole because there’s photos of them on his cell wall, but the kid!!!! Amazing. Loved it. Done.