Some great effects and an intriguing moral quandry are sold short by a self-righteous finale
This action flick/courtroom drama/morality tale from Robert Zemeckis, the director of Back to the Future and Forrest Gump, boasts a fine performance from Denzel Washington, a pivotal effects set piece of nail-biting intensity, and a third act so crushingly pious, didactic and devoid of nuance that you might as well nip into the foyer and bash your head against the wall instead.
John Gatins’ script spurs memories of two news events, though it was written prior to both: the 2012 wreck of the Costa Concordia cruise liner, and the emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on New York’s Hudson River in 2009. What if hero pilot “Sully” Sullenberger had shared more characteristics with shady ship’s captain Francesco Schettino?
Washington plays Whip Whitaker, a skilled pilot who’s also a womanising, coke-snorting drunk. When he experiences an airborne crisis, both his peerless skill in the sky and his bad personal habits are forced into the light. An intriguing moral conundrum comes into play: should one good act erase a bad past? But Gatins and Zemeckis are shamelessly controlling backseat drivers who simply refuse to let any ambiguity stand, or to permit their audience to reach its own conclusions. The film’s final segment is painfully long, artistically inert and self-righteous to the point of preaching. A shame, since there was potential here.
Zemeckis has always been an effects master, and the film is almost worth seeing just for that virtuoso disaster sequence (unless you’re flight phobic, in which case beware). Support is generally good too: John Goodman provides comic relief with a crude novelty turn largely cobbled together from stuff he saw Jeff Bridges do on The Big Lebowski; Bruce Greenwood is perfect as ever; and British actress Kelly Reilly glows in her small role as the tart-with-a-heart who forms part of Whip’s trip. But it’s all sadly undone by that sledgehammer of an ending.
General release from Fri 1 Feb.