Director: Robert Zemeckis
Nominated for: Best Actor (Denzel Washington), Best Original Screenplay
While featuring a technically-impressive airplane sequence, this movie is mostly a character study on an alcoholic. Denzel Washington plays airline pilot “Whip” Whitaker after he saves ninety-six our of one hundred and two people on board a plane after he makes an emergency landing during a mechanical failure. Hailed as a hero, we see earlier in the movie that he is addicted to alcohol and uses drugs such as cocaine. During the fateful flight, he is even seen pouring vodka into his juice. He is faced with the potential of legal action due to his intoxicated state, though he insists that the mechanical problem is to blame. Denzel Washington in ways plays both a similar character and different character to those he plays. He is different in terms of his personality and the conflict he goes through; he is a more troubled and vulnerable character. On the other hand, Whip has the same demeanor and method of speaking as his other characters. The movie sometimes presents a compelling look at alcoholism and abuse; I certainly liked the way a scene in the beginning was filmed, in which Whip snorts cocaine and the camera moves violently towards him. However, it was sometimes difficult to sympathize with Whip. He was unwilling to accept his problem until very later into the movie, which necessarily isn’t a bad character trait, but I was frustrated about his self-destructive tendencies, such as when he approaches his old family while intoxicated. This movie features a large supporting character, including his friend and drug dealer played by John Goodman, a performance which I certainly enjoyed, and a love interest for Whip played by Kelly Reilly. I found her role in the movie to be a little pointless. She doesn’t contribute much to the overall plot, and scenes featuring her interrupted our time with Whip in the beginning of the film. Bruce Greenwood plays Whip’s friend who represents an airline pilot union, and Don Cheadle as an attorney, but these performances aren’t memorable. Who was memorable, however, was James Badge Dale as a cancer patient who Whip and his eventual love interest encounter at a staircase in a hospital; he is on-screen for less than seven minutes, but he masterfully delivers a monologue about life and death. By the end, I didn’t find the overall message to be that special.
It features a great crash sequence and some impressive acting, but as a character study, it could have been a little more.