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Sobering and Enthralling
on 1 September 2013
From the opening scene of Washington waking up in bed with a stewardess, drinking leftover booze and snorting a line of coke - before heading to the airport to fly a plane... we know we are in for a role from him a little different than we have seen for a while. This is a man whose life is figuratively, and pretty soon literally, in freefall. The opening act of the movie is a plane crash that is both visceral and believable.. a reminder of Zemeckis the director who knows the value of special effects and how they help you tell a story. The rest of the movie reveals a different director altogether, the director of Castaway, Forrest Gump and Contact, who understands how to reveal character and make people 3 dimensional. After that crash, the movie's drama is all based on the character. He is told he has to stay clean and off the booze, and his battle with that is what drives the movie forward, as the movie explores the period up to the Federal investigation hearing. As the debris from the plane is pulled to together to investigate the crash, the movie starts to explore the wreckage that is Denzel's life. The middle stretch of the movie is a bit baggy for sure, but it's hard to say what should have been cut, because every minute of Washington on screen is electric. If it hadn't been for Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln, I'm sure the Oscar would have been his. A memorable scene involves him and a hotel mini-bar, in a will he-won't he moment that is wonderfully cut together and shows the director and actor in top form. His personal flight from facing his addiction is gripping in its own way, but it's worth also mentioning a supporting cast that rise to the occasion - from Kelly Reilly as the woman he meets in hospital who tries to sober him up, to Don Cheadle and Bruce Greenwood his support system for the legal battle, to John Goodman his supplier of medicinal pick-me-ups and source of most of the movies few laughs, there isn't a wrong step.
There are plenty of ideas explored here, about relationships, faith as well as addiction, which stretch the running time a bit. So yes, it's a little sluggish to be a masterpiece. But the performances here make this a must see nonetheless, and if you have had experience with alcoholics then the lies and behaviours here will ring scarily true. A slightly long, but satisfyingly nuanced success.