Casting Denzel Washington as an airline pilot who performs heroically under stress in the air—but can’t control himself on the ground—was a master stroke. We’re accustomed to seeing this commanding actor project qualities like determination and strength of character. Watching him play a man facing a moral dilemma, while denying his underlying problem, resonates more than it might have with a less imposing actor in the part.
The characters and subplots that surround Washington all make sense, too: a chance hospital meeting with a woman (Kelly Reilly) who’s trying to kick a drug habit, a tense dynamic between the pilot and his union representative (Bruce Greenwood) and the lawyer (Don Cheadle) who’s handling his case, and a brotherly relationship with a good ol’ boy (John Goodman) who happily supplies Washington with whatever he needs in times of crisis, be it drugs, booze, or a change of clothing. Brian Geraghty, Tamara Tunie, and Melissa Leo also make significant contributions to the picture.
In fact, it’s refreshing to find a major studio movie, with an A-list star, that is unabashedly adult in its orientation. I only wish it happened more often.