Film Review: ‘Sully’

Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Tom Hanks stars in the story of a hero pilot who refused to view himself as such after landing US Airways Flight 1549 on New York's Hudson River.

If there’s one Hollywood star you would trust to crash-land a commercial airliner without injuring a soul on board, it would surely be Tom Hanks. After risking his life in order to save his crew in “Captain Phillips,” the two-time Oscar-winner takes to the skies — and mere moments later, to the chilly waters of the Hudson River, after a flock of birds blows out both engines of US Airways Flight 1549 — in a remarkable true story that inspires confidence not only in its leading man, but in honest, hard-working Americans everywhere.

Directed by Clint Eastwood with the same kind of unpretentious professionalism the film makes a point of celebrating in its protagonist, “Sully” retells the so-called “Miracle on the Hudson” through the eyes of Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, who pulled off the incredible landing — if “landing” is indeed the right word when a plane touches down on open water — based on his book, “Highest Duty.” For audiences, getting to witness the feat in question is far and away the film’s biggest selling point (and no doubt the reason why it will be opening simultaneously on Imax screens Sept. 9), but Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki have opted for a counterintuitive approach, withholding the flight itself for as long as possible and focusing primarily on the aftermath of the accident, as Sully tortures himself with questions of what he might have done differently, and as a team of National Transportation Safety Board investigators attempt to ask him the same thing.

While that means more of the film is set in the hot seat of inquest chambers and courtrooms than in the cockpit itself, starting after the plane has safely landed is a shrewd storytelling strategy for multiple reasons. Not least of these is that it allows Eastwood to parcel out multiple impressions of the incident — from extended flashbacks to crude simulations — over the course of movie, effectively offering audiences six plane crashes for the price of one.

In fact, the film, which runs an efficient 96 minutes, in Eastwood’s typical no-fat style, holds back on what really happened until more than an hour in, and instead opens with a vivid nightmare in which Sully imagines a far different outcome had he followed through on his initial strategy of returning to LaGuardia Airport with practically no thrust in either engine, culminating in a fiery demise for all aboard as Flight 1549 crashes into a skyscraper. And then he wakes up.

The unsettling dream sequence is strangely less exciting than such airline-disaster openings as those in “Flight” and “Alive.” And yet, distasteful as it may be to watch a plane smash into the New York skyline, conjuring images of 9/11, it’s a reminder that Sullenberger’s actions potentially saved more than the lives of his 155 airline passengers.

This isn’t the first time Eastwood has opened a film with a major CG cataclysm: In the relatively heavy-handed “Hereafter,” he kicked off proceedings by demolishing the coast of Thailand with a dramatic recreation of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. While only a dream sequence, “Sully’s” opening feels less like a stunt from a director who alternates between sober, seemingly timeless portraits of exceptional personalities (“American Sniper,” “Million Dollar Baby”), and corny, cardboard melodramas too old-fashioned in their approach (“Jersey Boys,” “Changeling”), occasionally landing somewhere in the middle (à la “Flags of Our Fathers”). “Sully” is an example of the last done right: a straightforward tribute to the extraordinary actions taken by an irreproachable character who refuses to see himself as a hero. It’s not a particularly great Clint Eastwood movie — it ranks perhaps ninth or 10th on a résumé of 35 features, two of them best picture winners — but it’s one that promises to resonate in a big way with Americans at this moment in time.

Ripped from the headlines, “Sully” offers a rare example of a movie inspired by good news — the best news, as one character points out, that New York has heard in a long time, “especially with an airplane in it.” And because most Americans already know the outcome, it makes sense to focus on the less-known “what happened next” of it all, after Flight 1549 had faded from the TV news cycle. (In the film, whenever there’s a television in a scene — whether in a bar or a hotel or back home at the Sullenberger residence — it’s covering the story.) What most people don’t know is the cruel irony that despite saving everyone’s lives, Sully still had to answer to the NTSB, which felt that his decision to effect a forced water landing had actually endangered everyone aboard. According to protocol, Sully should have returned to LaGuardia, or else tried to land at nearby Teterboro Airport, and both the airline’s insurance company and Sully himself are faced with the consequences of his decision — one that’s informed by the pilot having delivered nearly a million passengers over some 40 years.

Sullenberger may be haunted (visions of crashing planes become a recurring motif), but he’s not alone. His co-pilot, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), sticks to Sully’s side like a faithful collie, while his wife, Lorrie (Laura Linney), offers encouragement from home via phone. But Sully’s network of support extends far beyond that, relying on all the other professionals who played a role that day, from the air-traffic controllers to the flight attendants to the emergency-response crew, and though viewers will shake their heads at the injustice of the fact that the authorities held Sully’s feet to the fire for what happened, Eastwood’s message is one of appreciation for those who responded to a crisis in which everyone survived, where the pilot did his job, and where people acted admirably across the board. As Skiles tells the NTSB investigating committee, “You’re not used to having answers to your guesses.” (He also gets the movie’s last laugh, an odd, “OK, I guess we can all go home now” chuckle.)

In terms of acting, there’s not a whole lot for the supporting cast to do other than support, and some of the extras (most notably the passengers) can be distractingly amateurish at times. This is Hanks’ show, and he delivers a typically strong performance, quickly allowing us to forget that we’re watching an actor. With his snowy white hair and mustache to match, Hanks conveys a man confident in his abilities, yet humble in his actions, which could also be said of Eastwood as a director. As unfussy as ever, Eastwood juggles the script’s odd chronology-bending structure, steering by his central character’s conscience throughout, while supplying another of his simple piano scores, which doubles as the melody for end-credits song “We’re All Flying Home” — though if ever there was a film that called for “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” this is it.

Film Review: 'Sully'

Reviewed at AMC Century City Imax, Aug. 26, 2016. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 96 MIN.

Production

A Warner Bros. Pictures release and presentation, in association with Village Roadshow Pictures, of a Malpaso production. Producers: Clint Eastwood, Frank Marshall, Allyn Stewart, Tim Moore. Executive producers: Steven Mnuchin, Kipp Nelson, Bruce Berman. Co-produers: Jessica Meier, Kristina Rivera.

Crew

Director: Clint Eastwood. Screenplay: Todd Komarnicki, based on the book “Highest Duty” by Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, Jeffrey Zaslow. Camera (color, Imax), Tom Stern. Editor: Blu Murray.

With

Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Valerie Mahaffey, Delphi Harrington, Mike O'Malley, Jamey Sheridan, Anna Gunn, Holt McCallany, Ahmed Lucan, Laura Linney.

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 19

Leave a Reply

19 Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. Chinyere says:

    Tom Hanks as an actor has always had a special place in my heart. After watching ‘Sully’ his place has now been cemented for a life time. I’ve watched a lot of plane crash documentaries on National Geographic channel to know that NTSB has high standards when investigating a crash.
    But they seemed to have given Captain Sully a hard, horrible time and I almost hated them for it.

    NTSB tried to pull him down, but God in His infinite mercy, along with Sully’s eternally grateful passengers raised him up where he rightfully belongs.

  2. Shripad Kulkarni says:

    It’s a very very good film.I saw it in India on 14th sept 2016.I was well aware with the actual story.i had a full 45 mins video with me from You tube.i am very much impressed with it,as an Incharge of a training Centre in MSETCL,Pune,India,I used to show it to all my Trainee Engineer brothers in the training centre.
    Further First Officer Jeffery Skiles,& one of the crew members Doreen Welsh are my friends on face book.I really consider my self very lucky for this.I have liked the Public Page of Captain Chesley Sully Sullenberger on Face Book too.I wish I could meet him.
    The film is amazing.The Hero captain actor Tom Hanks & the first officer,crew,all the staff,The LaGuardia airport ATC Officer Patric Harten all have done a gr8 job.Finally all the lives 0f 155 passengers & crew were saved.Hats off to The Director Clint Eastwood for making such a fine film. .

  3. Amazing movie and fine acting performances. Incredible 96 mins experience.

  4. Col says:

    Doesn’t sound like Oscar material. Kind of glad since Hanks and Eastwood have theirs. I would rather see some new names in the mix this year.

  5. Stan says:

    No thinking (or researching ) for yourself please! Let´s just watch the damn thing and eat our GMOs in silence.
    The Management thanks you…

  6. stevenkovacs says:

    No cynicism please! Let’s just enjoy a film about a real American hero made by cinema legends and ENJOY!

  7. Stan says:

    So it´s another fictional* “Flight” but the trial is BEFORE the crash, he doesn´t fly upside down and since
    it´s Hanks (the whitest of men), he´s an unequivocal HERO/Genius, whereas our black American treasure, Denzel, is still black and therefore a drunken coke freak who screws around. Eastwood is a spook and it´s straight-up 9/11 hero programming for the furtherance of the murderous agenda of the Cabal. (*The evidence of the actual crash is sketchy at best, though there´s some great shots of the plane floating like a cork with all the passengers on the wing having tea in their t-shirts. You´d think there´d be more (ANY!) private video footage. The camera wasn´t invented in 2010 you know!).
    In short: Social Engineering Psy-Op just like Hacksaw Ridge. ……………… IMHO!

  8. IT--II--IT says:

    ————— – – EASTWOOD is delivering chloroform like this ?
    ——————————– – – as 6 decades of KOREA milestones are ‘overlooked’ ?

    With ‘heroes’ like these ? – –WHO needs SURRENDER ?

    BULLLLEH

  9. loco73 says:

    Glad to see Clint back to form, as I was not a big fan of “American Sniper”…I am looking forward to seeing this movie and seeing Tom Hanks getting his grove once more with a good performance, since I thought that he was fantastic in “Bridge Of Spies” . So “Sully” it is…I just wish Tom Hanks hadn’t gone ahead and made another one of those ridiculous movies based on a Dan Brown novel…this time its “Inferno”….why?!?!

  10. Ed says:

    Review the movie don’t spoil the plot or portions of the movie next time please. I wanted your opinion on the quality of story told, acting prowess of the cast, but please refrain from actual plot points of the movie. I can’t finish your article for fear of you revealing more than a critique should

  11. Time to Retire, Oldie Oldenberger says:

    Eastwood makes glorified TV movies. His films have the most atrocious performances and clunkiest sequences of any major, working director today. Ever since Million Dollar Baby, his films have gotten progressively worse. Gran Torino takes “on the nose” to new heights. American Sniper is a cartoon version of the true story. His only concern seems to be in making his days. He even brags about it in interviews. Just get it in the can, no fussing, he has a nap to take.

    • Nikki says:

      It’s what you get when you mix his brand of fringe far right politics with film making. That and his propensity to hold long private conversations with chairs emptier than his head. That said, it’s just another summer bomb.

      • Sylvia says:

        Oh Nikki, we know who has the empty head. You moron. Go smoke some more weed and fry what little brain you have.

      • Hardy says:

        Love reading left-wing loons trying to trash an accomploshed director’s work because of his political views. And Hollywood wonders why America holds it in such contempt. You idiots.

  12. MerryMarjie says:

    I believe at this point, Tom Hanks could read a phonebook and I would pay to see his performance.

  13. IT--II--IT says:

    Hollywood has –always— been 100% INTEL RUN.

    By 1970, it became –literally– of a piece with the globalist mafia CIA/

    That was 2 years before the NIXON–MAO handover TREASON summit.

    In 2016, that stands FULLY ACHIEVED.

    And in 2016, Korea era draftee EASTWOOD is continuing to BALK milestone
    anniversaries for the soon to be 21st century –defining– KOREAN WAR.

    And as for ‘real guy’ – – EYE CON- — Tom HANKS ?

    Bet your bottom dollar – — !))% INTEL RUN and –ALWAYS– was.

    TAKE HEED

  14. Steve Barr says:

    After Sully and Snowden maybe someone in Hollywood will make a film about Smedley Butler . If you don’t know who he was look him up..

    • Jeff Kloss says:

      Steve, we must be on the same wavelength as I also mentioned Smedley Butler in a post this past week and also added Dan Daly. Hollywood apparently would rather make movies about Jeffrey Dahmer instead.

      • Stan says:

        Me thinks we´re ALL on the same page and they really couldn´t care less. At least Variety still has the guts to print the voices of sentient human beings…

More Film News from Variety

Loading