Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Mike O’Malley, Jamey Sheridan, Anna Gunn
I think many Americans can remember the story of the Miracle on the Hudson. When I heard it was getting the big screen treatment, I wasn’t surprised as it was only a matter of time before the rights were snatched up. I debated if it was even a story worth retelling. Was that the cynical side of me or can Hollywood be a bit predictable? I sighed a bit of relief once I realized the film wasn’t going to be a direct recreation of the situation in your standard linear approach. On January 15, 2009 Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Hanks) made a judgment call for a forced water landing for U.S. Airways Flight 1549. His plane suffered engine failure after a bird strike, and the aftermath was swift and timely. His decision to land in the middle of the Hudson River versus La Guardia or a runway in New Jersey may have cost him his career. He’s a veteran in the skies, yet he feels like his whole career hangs in the balance of an incident lasting 208 seconds. It feels very apparent that The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) set out to prove he made the wrong call. After many simulations and an investigation into the evidence, they believe he easily could have landed on the ground. The only other person in the cockpit was First Officer Jeff Skiles (Eckhart) who firmly stands by Sully’s call. It’s easy to claim that Sully was a hero, as he rightly is, but there were far too many people who wanted to claim him as a fraud who endangered the 155 people on that flight.
The film is in the very capable hands of director Clint Eastwood. He has focused the later portion of his career on true stories like this one, American Sniper, J. Edgar, Invictus, and his World War II pictures Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima. His only big mistake was tackling Jersey Boys. In total, Sully is his 35th film as a director and he shot it mainly using 65mm IMAX cameras. It may be advantageous to see it projected at a large screen IMAX theater like the one at the Minnesota Zoo. Eastwood doesn’t seem interested in sensationalizing the landing for dramatic purposes. The whole landing happened very fast, and Eastwood keeps it that way in the movie. It’s told in a non-linear approach and there isn’t that long, drawn out lead up into the crash. He’s more focused on the human-interest piece of the story. It’s probably a big reason why it’s called “Sully” instead of “Miracle on the Hudson”.
This specific angle may also be coming from the fact it’s based on Sully’s memoir “Highest Duty” and has a script by Todd Komarnicki. Eastwood and Komarnicki showcase who Sully was in the aftermath and how he dealt with the pressure that followed. He was a quiet man who didn’t like attention but was thrust in the public spotlight due to his heroic actions. It doesn’t help that he faced a growing resistance from the NTSB who wanted to discredit him. The conflict of the movie isn’t a man versus nature disaster type movie, but man versus man. You grow frustrated at the inner workings of what happens so often in these types of investigations. The film showcases the changing shift where people of power rely on computers, technology, and science to tell us the truth instead of trusting that age old concept of “in the moment” human experience. Sully, Skiles, and the rest of the passengers and crew are all alive to give their first hand experiences of what occurred, but the NTSB couldn’t care less about that. What happens in these types of situations when there are no survivors?
While Tom Hanks is not nearly as old as Sully or even resemble him, it’s the perfect casting choice as he naturally embodies that hero type. I don’t need actors to accurately look like their subject matters. I’d rather have the essence and gravitas there, and Hanks accurately captures that. He makes you believe and trust every action Sully took without any second judgment. For me there is no question on if Sully was a hero or fraud despite what the NTSB wants you to believe. With the casting of Hanks specifically, you’re meant to believe he’s the hero to highlight the absurdity of their opposition. He’s played many real life subjects recently in films like Saving Mr. Banks, Captain Phillips, and Bridge of Spies, but his subtle work makes each one different and unique without playing “Tom Hanks”. He’s an actor that has no doubt proven himself over the many decades his career has span, and that he can tackle a variety of stories, genres, and parts. The catch is that he’s one of those actors that audiences sometimes toss away as being a movie star, the goofball, and that All-American good guy. Maybe there is some sort of over saturation that comes into play. They can’t move passed his early career choices or maybe can’t see this stage of his career. It’s a thought process I just can’t get behind. He’s consistently strong without giving into showy performances or making them transformation pieces.
He’s joined by a strong supporting cast, none of whom steal the spotlight away from him. Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight) is a sturdy pick for Sully’s right hand man. He injects a touch of humor to the film to balance out the more intense moments. The always reliant Laura Linney appears as Sully’s wife who is stuck back at home. At first she’s unaware of what happened to her husband but then is forced to face the barrage of media swarming her house at all times. Her scenes are all phone conversations she’s having with Sully. Naturally I want Eastwood to do more with her because he’s cast someone as captivating as Linney, but I get the disconnection they have due to the portion of the story this film is telling. Rounding out the cast as the NTSB antagonists are Mike O’Malley (Glee), Jamey Sheridan (The Ice Storm), and Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn.
Sully clocks in at roughly 90 minutes making it one of Eastwood’s shortest films to date. Sometimes his films are longer than they need to be, and Sully still feels a tad longer than its short runtime. I applaud Eastwood’s efforts at getting right to the task at hand. The film never gets bogged down in non-essential side plots. There isn’t a lot of exposition with Sully’s lead up to the day nor is the ending dragged out once the NTSB decision is handed down. There are some flashback moments to supplement Sully’s mindset as he looks back at his career thus far. They merely keep things in perspective of how he’s being treated and what this kind of negative investigation can do on someone. Sully is a wholesome and honest guy who was merely trying to do his job to the best of his abilities.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? The fall movie season is off to a great start!
RATING: 4 out of 5 TICKET STUBS
It’s a good movie. Not great. But still definitely a fine piece. Nice review.
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