Plane disasters, in general, are quite good for making low budget disaster movies. You often only have a few sets to deal with and it is rare the plane actually crashes anyway so the effects budgets are low. Jet, also known as Ground Control, flips the perspective to that of the air traffic controller. What of the people on the ground guiding the planes around? What happens when all their equipment fails during a storm? That’s what Jet aims to take on in this character-driven drama that is well-acted but lacks the high tension to pull off its motives due to its hammy cinematography.
The disasters faced
A storm that we never see, power outages, planes in trouble, a clueless amateur pilot, Keifer Sutherlands own sanity and PTSD.
Reminding me very much of the real-life disaster of the mid-air collision of Uberlinger in 2002 (which remember hadn’t happened at the time of production), the story begins with Jack being in control of a plane that crashes. He manoeuvred it to avoid a mid-air collision and one of the planes went down. Even though it was a hopeless situation, his spiral into alcoholism and outbursts sees Jack leave air traffic controlling to focus on making flight simulators instead. It’s an overseen story beat which made me chuckle but it keeps him in the loop when his former boss needs him to come in as a favour during a stormy night. His boss T.C. is busy keeping his cool for his selection of operatives because his boss Susan has decided to accept extra diverted planes which will mean everyone is stretched to their limit.
The film slots into two separate incidents. Firstly they need to deal with all the extra flights coming in and keeping them away from each other. This is all too much for newbie Julie whom Jack takes under his wing. Cruise (yes, genuinely that is his name) is hotheaded and overconfident, Amanda wants to go home, Sam is just there, Pudgy is about to have a breakdown and HR watcher Murray is waiting for someone to crack so he can be all annoying. This positions everyone to then deal with a power outage allowing maintenance man John to tear around getting new parts and trying to bring them back online ASAP. This is causing more problems for runway controller Laura who is having to clean up the wonky landings and get everyone home and dry.
The second problem then sees an aeroplane hit trouble with fuel and need to come down in an emergency. Throughout the film, Jack has been cracking under flashbacks to his past incident. Can he overcome them to bring this last plane down?
Why is it worth watching?
Jet is a strange film because it has a fantastic cast that pushes the film way beyond its content. The script is fine but the lack of action in the middle 45 minutes means it is purely down to the acting to keep you interested. Keifer does well as the damaged lead and because the film goes for realism over sensationalism, no character becomes outrageously awful. We can all spot most of these characters where we work. There’s always one weasel!
Outside of that, it is genuinely interesting to see how the job of air traffic control works. As it was made in 1998, I imagine that this kind of set up and realistic approach was more unusual. Nowadays everything has a fly on the wall reality show so maybe a little of the charm has been lost over time. Ultimately, this film acts as a thank you to air traffic controllers and the work they do unnoticed behind the scenes. That’s a nice message to have.
There are few effects to speak of. The plain shots are real footage with a couple of edits to them and whilst the cockpit shots are nice, they are few and far between until the final plane. The main set is the air traffic control room and the screens are well put together to show the datasets the controllers work off of. I did find my attention drawn to the fact that a lot of camera shots fade into black backgrounds. It’s as if no one turned on the lights so that they could probably shoot it on a lot that didn’t require a huge room all the time.
Easily the strongest aspect of the film is the characters and the actors delivery of them. Jack is an interesting character because of how the film portrays PTSD. Whilst I could have done without the hammy crossfades and slow-motion dramatics of seeing Jack put his head in hands or look scared, it was a decent surface level dig into the subject. Sounds, feelings, emotions and situations would trigger him off and seeing how would find different ways to work around them and not back down in the second half of the film was warming. Everyone else plays their part well too but I particularly enjoyed that aspect. Also, whilst his part is secondary, Henry Winkler’s John is excellent when on screen. It really does read a whose who of TV series stars.
‘He flies like my ex-wife drives!’
Three memorable moments
- The entire weird side story of the amateur pilot plane for its jarring nature.
- The final landing approach which is suitably tense.
- Stuffed bird on the antenna!
The obligatory weird moment
There are a couple of weird moments during Jet where it attempts some retro cinematic humour and they are really jarring to the rest of the film. Firstly there is the obligatory cigar scene that seemed to permeate 80s and 90s films. The winner goes to Brian George who plays Shamaal, the amateur pilot that has about 4 scenes and as many lines. He is lost and not following protocol and every scene involves his younger girlfriend slapping him on the arm whilst he just smiles confused at the cockpit window. They absolutely have a plot purpose in the film but it is like we’ve walked into a surreal send-up for these very brief scenes.
The drinking game
Cruise in an insufferable prick. Take a shot each time he makes a cocky comment or acts like he owns the place. Robert Sean Leonard plays him so well I couldn’t wait for him to do something wrong and rubbed my hands at each point I hoped it would happen!
Jet is a strange one to recommend because there are no big effects and where it tries to be non-sensationalist for the most part, Jet is quite a calm affair too. The acting and casting is fantastic though and that elevates the film as a whole. Add half a point if you like character-driven drama, take half away if you came for special effects and high tension.
Rating – 2.5/5 OK
If you liked Jet (Ground Control) then you may like…
- Fearless – a film that deals with PTSD and surviving a plane crash
- Aftermath – the film that follows the Uberinger 2002 mid-air plane crash
- Airport 1975 – the Airport film that focuses most of the air traffic controllers
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