R, 96 mins.
2016, R, 96 mins.
Tom Hanks as Chesley 'Sully' Sullenberger / Laura Linney as Lorraine Sullenberger / Aaron Eckhart as Jeff Skiles / Anna Gunn as Elizabeth Davis / Mike O'Malley as Charles Porter
Directed by Clint Eastwood / Written by Todd Komarnicki, based on the book by Chesley 'Sully' Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow
At a very ripe age of 86, the fact that director Clint Eastwood is still helming major studio efforts at a time in life when most other industry players have long called it a career is pretty staggering.
that, it has also become abundantly clear that the masterful Eastwoodian
films of old like UNFORGIVEN, MYSTIC RIVER, MILLION
DOLLAR BABY and CHANGELING are
long behind him, which is made all the more apparent over the last decade
of forgettable and somewhat misguided efforts from him.
SULLY, however, is a decent –
albeit kind of problematic –
return to form for Eastwood and demonstrates that he still has a few good films up his more than capable sleeves to offer moviegoers.
SULLY is a fact
based account of the “Miracle on the Hudson” of 2009, during which
time U.S. Airways Flight 1549 made a daring and extremely risky “forced
water landing” on the Hudson River after both engines were taken out by
a flock of Canadian geese, which miraculously saved the lives of all 155
souls on board the plane. The
pilot, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger was lionized – and
rightfully so – as a bona fide America hero, and he quietly became the
subject of an adoring media circus. Not
only was he the very last person to leave the sinking aircraft, but he
also walked through the cabin not once, but twice before exiting it to
ensure that everyone was accounted for and safe.
Watching Sullenberger's remarkable modesty on the interview circuit
revealed him to be a man of old fashioned gumption and duty bound honor.
In many ways, this man’s a true diamond in the rough.
It should be
noted, though, that SULLY is not a standard biopic of the man’s life
(even though some rather awkwardly shoehorned in flashbacks are presented
in the film’s narrative about his past life that introduced him to
aviation). Eastwood is more
interested in the shaping the story of what happened in the cockpit during
those hellishly stressful 208 seconds for Sullenberger and his co-pilot
Jeffrey Skiles. Perhaps to
the film’s detriment, SULLY employs a rather confusing structure overall for chronicling the events of January of 2009, which
employs a non-linear storyline that feels a bit too cumbersome and
haphazardly constructed. It never becomes burdensomely confusing, but it somehow makes
an already frustratingly short film (barely over 90 minutes) lacking in
swift forward momentum at times. Fortunately,
SULLY overcomes its weird plot mechanics and a definitive lack of a
beginning, middle, and end by having a reliably stalwart performance by
Tom Hanks in the titular role, not to mention that Eastwood’s recreation
of the event in question is eerily authentic.
the relationship between Sullenberger and Skiles (a dependably strong
Aaron Eckhart) with remarkable veracity; there’s rarely a moment in the
film when they don't feel wholeheartedly credible as pilots and the film does
a stellar job of capturing the cadence of their back-and-forth banter in the
cockpit. The film showcases
the relative mundane nature of their prep for takeoff on that fateful day
in 2009, and by all accounts it was just another in a long lineup of routine
flights for the pair. Unfortunately,
and as mentioned, disaster strikes very early after takeoff, which forced
Sullenberger to make lighting quick judgment calls.
Air traffic controllers desperately tried to plot a return trip
back to the airport – or to any other nearby airports with available
runways – but Sullenberger realized that a plane without engine support
won’t make it, and he based this decades of experience, some shrewd
decision making, and his "gut."
Believing that landing in the nearby Hudson was his only viable
option, Sullenberger braced his plane, crew, and passengers for the worse.
history proved this to be the right course of action, and his peers,
colleagues, and the larger media as a whole immediately embraced
Sullenbeger with accolades and recognition. Unfortunately, members of the National Transportation Safety
Board aren’t totally convinced that Sullenberger couldn’t have
returned the plane safely to an airport.
This leads to multiple investigations into the events that
transpired, which begins to slowly weigh down on Sullenberger’s
One issue with
SULLY is that Eastwood seems to be really, really straining and
reaching for some form of villain to oppose the righteousness of
Sullenberger’s gallant actions, and he somewhat lazily finds it in the
NTSB officials, none of whom are given much depth or personality in the
story. They're essentially
conceived as cardboard cutout bureaucratic antagonists here that
vehemently oppose Sullenberger’s choices throughout.
Now, a much more refined approach would have been to portray them
as empathetically and responsible people that, much like Sullenberger,
were just doing their jobs. I
question whether or not the real reps from the NTSB came off as
standoffishly aloof with Sullenberger during their queries, and also
whether or not they bombarded him with flight simulator findings and
computer analysis of the landing. Eastwood
lacks a subtle approach here to this facet of Sullenberger’s story,
which sort of brings the film down at points.
Yet, SULLY is
intrinsically compelling every time Hanks is on screen as his conflicted
captain, and much like, say, Jimmy Stewart before him, Hanks is an
endlessly amiable silver screen performer that can tap into the instant
everyman appeal of his characters, Sullenberger being no exception.
It’s a very soft spoken and undercranked performance, which
echoes the real Sullenberger’s admirable humility.
That, and Hanks also captures the nightmarish post-landing anxiety
that, no doubt, also plagued the man.
Even though Sullenberger presented here is someone that resolutely
believes that he did the right thing, he’s nevertheless plagued with
nagging questions about them that slowly wear him down.
If anything, Hanks imbues Sullenberger with a no-nonsense,
cool-headed demeanor that serves the film well and elevates it above its
flaws. He’s paired very
well with Eckhart, a terribly underrated actor that always managers to
infuse himself in supporting roles with a genuinely likeable and
humanistic swagger that serves as Sullenberger’s humorous voice of reason
Despite some of
his problematic handling of the material here, Eastward sometimes never
gets the due credit he deserves for being a technically proficient
director when it comes to marrying live action with visual effects.
Flight 1549’s descent into the Hudson – shown multiple times in
the film from varying viewpoints – definitely packs an exhilarating wow
factor while simultaneously communicating to audiences the nerve jangling
danger that everyone on board was facing that day.
Alongside the alarmingly realistic opening to HEREAFTER
(featuring an immensely powerful tsunami wave) or the gritty
verisimilitude of his staging of the Battle of Iwo Jima in FLAGS
OF OUR FATHERS and LETTERS
FROM IWO JIMA, Eastwood’s painstaking presentation of the
Miracle on the Hudson is an undeniable showstopper that demonstrates his
I just wished
that his confidence and discipline here translated to other aspects of
story. For a film that’s so
routinely well acted and consummately mounted, SULLY is, again, awash in
narrative confusion at times. Perhaps
it's simply too short and doesn’t flesh out many other particulars of
Sullenberger’s life (Laura Linney appears, for example, as his
beleaguered wife in what amounts to an obligatory beleaguered wife role
and not much else). That, and
beyond his obvious courage when faced with impossible odds, Sullenberger
is not altogether that fascinating of a character, which regrettably leads
to Eastwood and company pining for ways to manufacture dramatic conflict
in the film. You rarely get a
sense that Sullenberger’s psyche is as fully penetrated as Eastwood
thinks it is in the film. Still,
SULLY mostly works as a noble-minded celebration of working class heroism,
and this is Hanks' film through and through. Much like AMERICAN SNIPER,
though, Eastwood isn’t compelled with dealing with some of the drearier
aspects of his subject's life, like how Sullenberger testified in February
of 2009 before the House of Representatives about how his salary was
slashed by 40 per cent and how his pension – like most in the industry
– was all but eroded by cutbacks.
He pleaded a case that his industry was showing less and less
interest in keeping people with decades of experience and that the pay
scale had become so low that it forced veteran pilots to abandon their
That aspect of Sullenberger’s life would have provided an emotional gut-punching epilogue to SULLY, but it instead goes the safer route, which is not altogether satisfying, but not altogether bad either. On one large positive, the film wisely supports the notion that an experienced man’s “gut” instincts on the job are more reliable than anything else...and that should really count for something.