Written by Talaat Captan, Robert Moreland, and Mark Shepperd
Directed by Richard Howard
I worked for nine years in air freight at Kennedy Airport. During that time, I heard a lot of stories about a lot of things. Which is why, when I picked up the latest Kiefer Sutherland flick when it was at Blockbuster, I felt completely unnerved.
Ground Control is the story of Air Traffic Controller Jack Harris (Sutherland). During a dark and stormy night, a plane he is trying to route into the airport crashes. Overwhelmed with guilt over the 174 deaths, he quits his job and moves to Phoenix where he drinks a lot and designs software. Did I mention his wife and kid left him too?
So if this sounds like a cliche so far, it could be. What bolsters this movie is everything that happens from this point on. Robert Sean Leonard is masterful as Cruise, the chief controller at the Phoenix airport. He is trying again and again to get Jack out of the funk he is in and urges him time and again to come and help out. Jack resists all along until New Year’s Eve comes around and Cruise finds himself working with a minimal crew and a storm is brewing.
There is a great supporting cast of controllers at the airport, and a great many familiar faces including Kelly McGillis, Margaret Cho, Charles Fleischer, Farrah Forke, and Michael Gross. However, Henry Winkler manages to steal ever scene he is in and it’s a shame they didn’t use him more.
Winkler portrays John Quinn who is trying to keep the computers and radar in the control tower operating even though they are antiques. Getting parts is nearly impossible. Anyone who hasn’t worked in the industry probably doesn’t realize just how close to the truth this is. I know when I was still working at the airport (a bit more than 5 years ago) they had an air traffic control system that was over thirty years old then. There was always talk of upgrading and changing, but there were logistical problems with getting one system online and taking down another. Whether that situation was ever resolved, I don’t know, but this was not isolated to just one airport.
Knowing this, I would say that Robert Moreland and Talaat Captan, the writers, probably knew someone in the industry, because it is way to close to how the situation was in the early to mid nineties.
That said, the movie did not make good use of the supporting cast. The picture runs about 90 minutes, and I have to wonder if a lot was cut from it that would’ve bolstered this in the needed places.
Though it’s rated PG-13, the only real problem would be that your kids could come away with a fear of flying. There is great suspense as to whether or not Jack will be able to hold it together throughout the night, as well as if he will come through when he is needed most.
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