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, an American pilot who became a hero after landing his damaged plane on the Hudson River in order to save the flight’s passengers and crew.
With it being a Clint Eastwood film, Sully is aptly an all-American, flag waving, bald-eagle-swooping-past-the-Lincoln-memorial, fist-pumping affair. You expect little more from Eastwood, who is maybe the American director. His films celebrate the underdog, the blue-collar workers, the grandiose notion of the American dream as something only ever a reach away. With Sully – his best work since Million Dollar Baby way back in 2004 – Eastwood has conjured up a ludicrously efficient drama that – although lacking affection-is incredibly effective.
Tom Hanks stars as Chesley “Sully” Sullenburger, peroxide blonde hair, moustache following tow, a pilot with “42 years of experience”. During a routine flight between New York and Cleveland, all hell breaks loose after a flock of geese ravage the engines, resulting in total power loss. Alongside his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart with a truly incredible moustache), he miraculously lands the plane in the Hudson River. What follows is an intense, unscrupulous investigation into the “water landing” as a direct result of human error.
I have an irrational fear of flying. All those stats declaring flight as the safest mode of travel mean nothing; we have no place 30,000 meters above land. Eastwood grasps onto this fear with a vice-like grip and rarely lets up. For the most part, this is achieved through almost unbearable sound design. Even before disaster strikes, as the engines rumble, the plane reaching speed before taking off, tension is exploited to induce cold sweats and white knuckles.
Then the crash, or the “water landing” as we are told consistently. It’s strange, although shown in full twice and for all its technical wizardry, it’s dampened by the looming figure of truth. The audience is well aware of the final outcome, and for those unaware, it’s plastered across every poster. Where Flight found total panic in air travel, Eastwood ensures a certain level of calm.
Where it succeeds most is in the series of encounters following. Sully is forced into hotel rooms, boardrooms and a vast courtroom before he’s given the chance to decompress and Hanks plays this with an underlying frailty, as if ready to crack at any moment. Hanks performs with a locked-jaw rigor, waving the absurd panic of the situation aside in place of absolute composure.
Yet as with Eastwood’s most recent work, he directs with a workmanlike efficiency. Every shot, every camera movement has the feel of having passed through numerous focus groups, while the conflict has the impression of being force. He also, rather strangely, attempts to conjure up villainy in moral ambiguity. Those tasked with tackling the event are portrayed as hubris, more arch villains than happened upon workers.
Sully is efficient and effecting if not affecting. Eastwood exploits paranoia before succumbing to the incessant demands of a narrative largely pointless. Like the sorest of thumbs, the ending-already plastered across every newspaper since the event in ’09-hovers awkwardly, reducing any conflict too little but a forced after-thought.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★