Friday, September 9, 2016


Anointed by the media as the "Miracle on the Hudson," Sully offers the story of pilot Chesley Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) whose miraculous water landing of a full-sized passenger plane in the Hudson River was celebrated by the world as a near-impossible feat but questioned heavily by the airline industry. Remarkably, every passenger and crew member survived Sully ditching the plane, but that's really just where this story gets started.

More analytical than I expected, the screenplay by Todd Komarnicki spends much of its screentime on findings, data, trial strategy, simulations, discussions, and bureaucratic infighting. While this allows director Clint Eastwood to steer well-clear of the film venturing anywhere near the realm of sappy or schmaltzy, it also means much of the movie lacks the emotional impact one would expect. Other than watching his struggle to deal with reluctantly being pulled into the limelight, we don't learn much about our title character. Although deeper family and drinking issues and are hinted at, the movie's focus is completely on Sully being the right man in the right spot at right moment and how those few seconds effected the flight and Sully in particular.

Taking place over a handful of days during the National Transportation Safety Board's investigation into the crash, our lead character and co-pilot (Aaron Eckhart) find themselves untethered in New York answering questions and defending their actions in boardrooms while being the toast of the town on late night television. The film offers flashbacks to the flight itself, including one extended sequence where we finally see the much-discussed events unfold. While the crash is the most visually-stunning sequence of the movie, it's Hanks' performance in the immediate aftermath which is the true standout. Professionalism isn't a sexy subject for a movie to tackle, but that's where this story lives.

During the end credits several photographs from the aftermath are shown. I'll give Eastwood and his production team credit for the level of detail taken to create the crash scene and the efforts of the rescue craft saving every single passenger. Adapted from Sullenberger's own autobiography, I would be curious to know how much liberty Komarnicki takes with the story as Sully finds himself publicly praised but privately assaulted by everyone in the airline industry not aboard the flight. The script even gets dangerously close to actually accusing the NTSB of inappropriately targeting Sully specifically while consciously choosing to obscure and fit facts to match their own conclusions (which they may not have had the evidence to support), all while holding Sully's new-found celerity against him. If there weren't actual villains during the real events, just hard-working experts with conflicting opinions doing their jobs, Sully certainly creates them for dramatic effect.

Far from Hanks or Eastwood's best work, Sully is still definitely worth seeing. Hanks carries the film, and Eckhart works well as his wingman (both literally and figuratively). At the same time you can see why it's being released in the early Fall dumping ground rather than a more prominent holiday Oscar push. It may not capture the miraculous, but it does give us a small glimpse in how one man's quick thinking saved 155 lives and how such a traumatic event can be a struggle to deal with for everyone involved.

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