When veteran pilot William "Whip" Whitaker (Oscar-nominated Denzel Washington) saves a plane-load of passengers from certain death with a gravity-defying stunt, he's hailed a national hero. However, it's later revealed that he was loaded on booze and cocaine... and faces a jail term if the airline and jet manufacturer can shift the blame onto him. Director Robert Zemeckis steers a sure course through moral turbulence and is rewarded by a fine performance from Washington as the flawed hero.
James Badge Dale
When dapper airline pilot Will "Whip" Whitaker (Washington) dons his cool-as-hell Aviator shades he's not just doing it to complete the impression of a sublimely-assured flyboy.
He's doing it so his passengers can't see his cocaine-fuelled pupils dilate to tiny pin-pricks...or his red rimmed peepers betray a monster night on the lash.
Whip is an alcoholic junkie. But he won't admit it and cavelierly swaggers into the cockpit of SouthJet 227 departing Orlando for a routine 50-minute hop to Atlanta.
Except it's not routine. A mechanical fault puts the plane and its 100-odd screaming passengers into a dive and it's only Whip's lightning technical instinct that inverts the aircraft (spins it upside down) before righting it and landing in a field with only a handful of fatalities.
He's hailed a hero...but it's only a matter of time before a damning toxicology report kickstarts a vicious corporate blame game with both the airline and the plane manufacturer desperate to shift the blame onto the sodden pilot's shoulders.
The moral conundrum is that Whip unquestionably saved dozens of lives with his skill as an aviator...but if he was found to be drunk all that goodwill comes crashing down to earth and he faces years in the slammer.
There is hope in the form of rehab junkie Nicole (Reilly), a kindred spirit who strikes a chord with Whip and is determined to wean him off the sauce while they hole up in his late father's farmstead. There's also a sympathetic union rep (Bruce Anderson) fighting Whip's corner with the help of Don Cheadle's hotshot corporate attorney.
However, like all alcoholics, Whip is his own worst enemy and is soon swigging from enormous bottles of vodka and passing out on the living room floor, a sottish state of affairs that sees Nicole packing her bags and heading for the door.