***1/2 out of ****
In Clint Eastwood’s Sully we get the kind of somber tale for which this director is so well known: A unique individual struggling against shortsighted regulations and those who represent them. In the case of this film, we get a rather strong story, and Eastwood’s tendency to study his subject spares us his typical time-wasting redundant nature and it finds an ending well short of two hours.
The film tells us the story of US Airways Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenburger, a man who in the winter of 2009 managed land a crippled plane in New York’s Hudson River saving all 155 passengers. While this act garnered Sullenberger attention as a national hero, he and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles spent time defending their careers during investigative sessions held by the National Transportation Safety Board.
According to the film, the NTSB found, through repeated simulations, that Sullenberger and Skiles had opportunities to land at nearby runways, but possibly jeopardized the passengers’ lives by resorting to the water landing. Sullenberger, in the process of starting an airline safety consulting business with expert piloting background in the US Air Force must use his superior knowledge to demonstrate the factors being overlooked in the investigation and prove that he made the right choice.
Tom Hanks will always have a devoted audience, but playing this character is the kind of typecasting that might deserve groans, particularly from snarky members of my generation or younger. Hanks has always been great at playing an American hero and while he’s attempted to go back to his comic roots (Larry Crowne) or take on some very atypical projects (Cloud Atlas), the return to playing idealists with undeniable humanity in films like Captain Philips, Bridge of Spies, and now Sully demonstrate that he is only getting better at it.
It’s also an extra treat to see Aaron Eckhart in a role that seems suited for him as the loyal and durable Skiles. Laura Linney as Sullenberger’s wife, Michael Rapaport as a New York bartender, and the many actors who play the crew and passengers of the flight also give their effortlessly natural performances.
I’m still tired of Eastwood’s low-color aesthetic. I wish he’d shoot in black and white. Also, I could have done without the visions Sully has of alternate 9/11-like outcomes of his flight. The movie lets us know what the Miracle on the Hudson means to people since it involved an airliner descending on New York City. Showing sensationalistic disaster segments that don’t match the realism of the actual emergency landing in the film seem like cheap methods of juicing up the film. There are other cinematic methods useful for conveying a hero’s trauma.
Controversy surrounds the antagonistic portrayal of the NTSB in this film. While Anna Gunn, Mike O’Malley and Jamey Sheridan play their board members ranging from sympathetic to prying investigators, Todd Komarnicki’s screenplay (based on Sullenberger’s book) and Eastwood’s direction show contempt for a process, which only elongated the emotional recovery for the captain and his co-pilot.
The conflict introduced by this plot element isn’t completely necessary. The malicious portrayal of the investigation may have only been a subjective interpretation of Sully's and only as real as the crash visions he has.
The movie shows that Sullenberger and Skiles were in no mood to go through with this business on top of the press and media bombardment, but it’s fair to say that if a simulation analyzed the event incorrectly, the entire investigation served to improve simulation protocol to gage future incidents with more accuracy.
Eastwood knows his audience and no matter how he chose to look at this hopeful story of courage and quick thinking, the movie climaxes in universal gratitude for its title character. Its method of representing the emergency landing from different perspectives by flashing back to them during each act of the story is a very wise way of cinematically prolonging a harrowing event that took place in a matter of minutes.
Sully is not thoroughly excellent, but probably Eastwood’s best movie in some time and I really enjoyed it.