You could be forgiven for thinking that this film about a pilot who is hailed as a hero for heroically crash landing his nose diving plane and saving dozens of lives only for it to transpire that he was drunk at the time, is the true story of that pilot from a few years ago who was hailed as a hero for heroically crash landing his nose diving plane and saving dozens of lives only for it to transpire that he was drunk at the time. I’d certainly forgive such a mistake because that it exactly what I presumed it was when I saw the trailer.

I actually went into the film still obliviously entertaining this misconception and I didn’t actually realise this wasn’t a true story until about 30 minutes in. I happily accepted the miraculous piloting manoeuvre that our ‘hero’ used to land his doomed aircraft but when he started interacting with other people post crash I quickly suspected that they weren’t giving it to me straight.
This raises an interesting point because although this is a straight drama there was clearly something about it that told me it wasn’t true and surely that has to be a problem. My subconscious was telling me it was unrealistic even though I would probably have never questioned the realism if I’d thought it was fiction from the start.
I am usually happily suckered by a good narrative, I didn’t have any problem with the plot of The Dark Knight Rises for example. (Of course he’d have no problem travelling from Turkey to America with no money and no passport before sneaking back into a city under siege that hasn’t had anyone get in or out alive for three months. Yep, that seems fine to me.) Still this time because of the never made promise of a true story I didn’t buy it. Perhaps it was the arrival of John Goodman in full Coen Brothers mode that did it for me, perhaps it was something else.
Presumably they couldn’t get the rights to the real pilot’s story, or perhaps in real life it didn’t all wrap up in a nice, tidy Hollywood way. It may give us a brave portrayal of an alcoholic set to self destruct but you can see the pat ending coming right from the start. Well, at least 30 minutes from the start.
All the same, just because you know the destination doesn’t mean that the journey can’t be interesting. (There is an obvious flight metaphor here; ups and downs, turbulence on the way, over priced seats etc etc but I’m not going there.) Denzel Washington is always watchable and this is a particularly interesting performance as he is trying to make you root for a pretty unlikable character. In fact you might actually lose all sympathy for him and if you do this will dramatically influence your opinion of the film. There is one point late in the film where (little spoiler coming) he quickly sobers up by getting high and I’m not sure that the tone of this scene is quite right. It either glorifies or trivialises the use of hard narcotics and I really don’t think the film was aiming to do either of these.
The plane crash at the start is really just there to kick off the story but it is gripping stuff and unsurprisingly it is the high point of the film. The rest of the film struggles to measure up but if it manages to do so at all it is because the tone is very different from this dramatic opening act.
On balance I do think this is a pretty good portrayal of selfish and destructive addiction, with a big plane crash thrown in. The script isn’t quite worthy of the central performance but its nice to see Robert Zemeckis back in front of a real camera. Fortunately this is the Robert Zemeckis who made Contact and Cast Away, not the Robert Zemeckis who made Forrest Gump. It would be nice if it were the Robert Zemeckis who made Back to the Future but I fear he may not exist anymore.
Is this one for the kids?
It is classified 15 and it has the big three; sex, drugs and, if you count the movement of the crashing plane, rock and roll.

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