Directed by Clint Eastwood.
Starring Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Anna Gunn, Mike O’Malley, Jamey Sheridan, Michael Rapaport, and Laura Linney.
The story of Chesley Sullenberger, who became a hero after gliding his plane along the water in the Hudson River, saving all of the airplane flights 155 crew and passengers.
Sully unexpectedly feels like the natural follow-up and perfect companion piece to Clint Eastwood’s previous directorial effort in the polarizing but nonetheless Oscar-nominated American Sniper. The much revered director once again is tackling the heavy implications of PTSD, although this time not in the form of murder in the name of defending one’s country, but rather the immediate shock and media circus whirlwind that occurred in January of 2009 when Chesley Sullenberger successfully nailed an emergency landing into the Hudson River saving the lives of all 155 passengers on board (which included himself).
Based on the book Highest Duty by the actual Chesley Sullenberger, Sully is more concerned with the dramatic mental effect such a traumatic experience would have on a pilot with 40+ years of experience under his wing, and if his actions and decisions during the heat of the moment were rational along with being the most logical course of action. This means that while all 155 lives were saved, Sully still must go up against recovered evidence and computer simulations that will determine some fairly high stakes, but more to the point, will take its toll on his mind as to if he could have done something different and safer. The movie most certainly enjoys playing with the theme of human error versus the mathematical efficiency of technology, and it is in those scenes that Clint Eastwood generates the most tension and intrigue from the relatively short 96 minute movie.
The problem that Clint Eastwood seems to be facing here is that the story itself on display in Sully is just barely stretched into the territory of a feature-length film, and honestly, probably could have used even more trimming to the duration. Beginning after the landing incident and drifting back to that sequence at some point during the middle of the film is actually something that makes sense, as it gives the audience something to look forward to rather than Clint Eastwood blowing the film’s load and climax during the first five minutes.
Remember, the crash itself is only a 208 second thing meaning that realistically, it is impossible for the scene to take up too much of the running time. However, clickable flashbacks of Sully first becoming a pilot and more add nothing to the movie, often coming across as Clint Eastwood unsure of how to siphon out the most mileage from the story. Also, was it really necessary to show the entire landing sequence twice? Probably not; it just feels like more padding to the running time.
Luckily, he has a plethora of reliable actors on his side, including the always astounding Tom Hanks giving a dedicated performance that really allows viewers to analyze and understand all of the little complexities and inner turmoil going on in Sully’s brain. He is taken aback by the fact that a life or death situation has transformed him into a hero/celebrity in the eyes of the public, and it shows with some of his interactions and reactions to things strangers do or tell him. Aaron Eckhart also seems to have resurrected his career from the dumps to play a charismatic co-pilot given some fairly humorous comedic relief lines. There are also a few exchanges between Sully’s wife played by Laura Linney that does add to some of the drama.
Honestly though, Sully just comes across as a movie that exists. It is strongly directed with a number of fine performances, but the film never actually leaves a lasting impression of some kind. As soon as the credits roll with all of the typical real-life footage playing off to the side, you can’t help but feel “well, that was a thing that happened in 2009 and it’s pretty cool that everyone lived”. If nothing else, Clint Eastwood is profoundly skilled at showcasing just how real the risks and sacrifices of so many different professions are, and that you don’t have to be a military soldier or fighting for your country to be considered a hero that has saved lives.
At the end of the day, Sully will offer you a highly intense crash landing and rescue sequence, book-ended by mediocrity among fine performances that far too often feature Tom Hanks constantly jogging throughout New York. At one point a Seinfeld billboard is visible in the background, and honestly, something is wrong when during some scenes the most important thing on my mind is searching around for random product placement. Sully is similar to American Sniper in thematic poignancy, but it is certainly no American Sniper. Nevertheless, Clint Eastwood is one of the greats, so naturally this movie isn’t totally worthless, and his next project will be eagerly awaited.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★