‘Sully’ Is A Non-Essential Look At Heroism (Movie Review)

sully thumbIt can be tough to imagine why Sully is a film that needs to be seen. Working as a dramatization of an event that took place not too long ago, it would appear as if audiences already have a good handle on what took place with the “Miracle on the Hudson”. However, it appears director Clint Eastwood had set out to prove something, as he delivers a film that is characteristically well-acted and efficiently made. There is also some sly commentary underneath the surface in addition to the visual grandeur that came from filming with IMAX cameras. The film may feel a bit padded to tell a feature-length story, but there is some cleverness here that is much appreciated.

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There are two key components that help Sully. One is Tom Hanks, who plays Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger with the right amount of confidence as well as concern. Having a film tell the story of how a veteran pilot was the biggest factor in making a successful water landing in the Hudson River needs an actor of Hanks’ caliber and that is exactly what we get. Without making Sully feel larger than life, we get a sense of what heroism is in watching a man stay calm under pressure, as well as learn just enough about where his head is at, following this event.

The other major component is the film’s second act, which reconstructs what took place during and around US Airways Flight 1549. As many know, a commercial airliner lost both engines and needed to be navigated into the Hudson River for the sake of making some kind of landing. Fortunately, every passenger survived and both Sully and First Officer Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) were considered heroes as a result.

Eastwood shows us this scenario from a variety of angles and perspectives, without succumbing to melodramatic ploys to over-emphasize the obvious drama of the scenario. Even scenes involving some of the passengers, who were introduced in a few early scenes to allow for a few recognizable faces, never lapses into unnecessary territory. Eastwood’s regular cinematographer Tom Stern does a fine job with the aerial footage as well and creates a strong impression of what it is to see people react in such a chaotic situation.sully 5

This speaks of the mid-section of a 90-minute film (without credits). The rest of Sully is a bit more ordinary, as it involves a lot of people talking in rooms about what went wrong and shots of Sully in full contemplation over his actions. It is here that we get to see Hanks do solid work against a number of solid supporting actors including Eckhart, Laura Linney as Sully’s wife (who’s scenes have her always in the kitchen and on the phone) and others played by Anna Gunn, Mike O’Malley, Holt McCallany and other character actors.

It is not that these scenes are bad, but you do get a sense that Sully clearly doesn’t have a lot to contribute. There are unneeded flashbacks to early moments in Sully’s life, a repetition of how the media factors into all of this, lots of Sully’s late night and early morning jogs and more little moments. Eastwood even manages to toy a bit with the audience by showing us imaginary scenarios of what could have happened, were Sully not as successful.

To its credit, while the film has to stretch itself, it has some other ideas on its mind. There is a bit of a running joke involving how the media wants to tell this story as a tragedy any chance it can, despite celebrating Sully as a hero for his actions. Looking a bit deeper though, you can practically find Eastwood taking his own stance as an older filmmaker celebrating how a veteran pilot was able to do his job, despite doubts created by modern technology.sully 3

Between some of these underlying ideas and having Hanks front and center in the lead, Eastwood has actually managed to craft his best film in quite some time (since Changeling as far as I’m concerned). Armed with fancy new digital IMAX cameras, there is actual ambition to be seen in the filmmaking as well. All of this allows Sully to feel like a movie made with a level of reverence and emotion that has frankly been lacking from many of Eastwood’s recent efforts.

Sully is also nearly an hour shorter than Robert Zemeckis’ preachy and overdone Flight. That film has some similarities, but Sully obviously has a different angle focused on defining heroism. This film may not manage to get a lot of mileage out of its story, but we do get to see people doing their jobs to the best of their abilities and succeeding because of it. There is drama to be found within this tale, but Eastwood’s efficient hand only takes things so far. Sully does not amount to a whole lot, but it does enough to stick the landing.

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