Year Released: 2012
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, John Goodman, Kelly Reilly
(R, 238 min.)
“Success consists of getting up one more time than you fall.” Oliver Goldsmith
Even when he’s sauced up, pilot Denzel Washington can fly his jumbo jet with the same macho brilliance as those dare devils that buzz the crowds at state fairs. And the actor is just as brilliant, keeping us enthralled even as his grounded character plods and stumbles in a bitter fight with alcoholism, his deft touch now ham fisted and flailing.
He may appear a hero to the public for somehow landing his non-functioning passenger jet with just a handful of fatalities, a job no other pilot could have handled, but we the audience are in on his sordid secrets.
Before we see his daring confidence in the skies, we see a very hung over Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) in an angry phone confrontation with his ex that is more than a little mean-spirited. The shapely stewardess who shares his hotel bed is similarly besieged by last night’s lengthy binge. Only a line or two of cocaine restores the two to near normal.
When a confident Whip, utterly handsome in his captain’s uniform, strides onto the plane, we know the secrets behind his flashy aviator dark classes.
Yet we cannot help but be impressed as he skirts a storm, pushing his jumbo jet to the limits, the flashing metal an extension of his brilliance and ego. Only we see him furtively pouring two mini bottles of vodka into his orange juice as he accepts the spontaneous applause of the relieved passengers. Later, his co pilot rouses him from a literal drunken stupor for his second aerial challenge of the flight. These scenes directed by Robert Zemeckis, who did an equally terrifying crash sequence in 2000’s Cast Away, are more than worth the price of admission.
Whip’s days as a hero are short-lived, however, when hospital lab tests reveal a high level of alcohol in his blood. What follows is the kind of turbulence he cannot ride out with bluff and bravado.
Here the opening shots that reveal our hero’s deep flaws reap their rewards. The audience already sees Whip as damaged goods and is spared disillusionment. That Denzel Washington manages to keep us rooting for him even as his arrogance and self-destructive nature sabotage every step toward recovery is testimony to his skill and presence as an actor.
He is helped by a fine cast. John Goodman as his cheerful on call drug dealer defies stereotype. He is not low, dirty, or foul, but instead abounding with natural good cheer and all the artificial means to achieve it, for a price.
Don Cheadle, the attorney hired by the pilots' union to defend Whip, somehow communicates his contempt for the man behind his bland lawyerly expression. The veiled eyes tell all.
James Badge Dale plays a dying cancer patient who meets Whip, and Nicole (Kelly Reilly), a heroin addict, in a secluded hospital stairway where they all catch a brief smoke. He speaks with the frank abandon and wry humor of one facing certain death, providing a stark visual contrast between the cigarette cupped in his hands and the portable array of tubes and chemicals that clatter along behind him. By talking so openly about his own vulnerabilities, he allows Whip and Nicole to open up as well. It is a strange and poignant scene, one that anchors us for the emotional ride that is to follow.
This film isn’t the thriller that the trailers may lead one to suspect. Instead it is a frank and realistic picture of one man struggling to right himself, a feat – it turns out – that is much more difficult than righting the megaton aircraft he handles so magnificently.
For a while, bruised and broken though he is, Captain Whitaker basks in the warm glow of public praise after he heroically lands a disabled jet. Ever cheerful and practical, if not necessarily interested in Whip's long term health, his friendly drug dealer John Goodman tells Whip he'll never need to buy himself a drink again.
That feeling of well-being still envelopes Whip up until a fateful meeting with the pilot union leader and its attorney at a upscale hotel. Whip orders a delicious looking cinnamon roll, but he never gets to savor its sweetness nor any other for a long time. For it is at this little breakfast soiree that he learns that the hospital has drawn his blood right after the crash and recorded his damning blood alcohol levels.
It's a shame to leave this puff of gooey sweetness on the plate as Whip does, especially since our recipe is so easy and delicious.
Overnight Cinnamon Rolls
Original recipe makes 20 rolls
3/4 cup raisins
20 frozen dinner rolls
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup instant vanilla pudding mix
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, melted
Soak the raisins in warm water for 10 minutes; drain.
Place the rolls in a lightly greased 10 inch Bundt pan or a 13x9 inch cake pan. In a medium mixing bowl combine the brown sugar, pudding mix and cinnamon. Sprinkle the soaked raisins and the cinnamon mixture over the rolls. Pour the melted butter over the rolls, cover with a clean damp cloth and let stand overnight at room temperature.
In the morning, preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Bake rolls for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then turn out onto a serving plate.