It’s a plane!
Historical accuracy be damned in Sully, Clint Eastwood’s take on the heroic actions of pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who landed his plane on the Hudson River and saved the lives of all crew and passengers on board.
The passages about a pilot successfully landing his plane in an ice-cold Hudson River and allowing over 150 people to tell the tale, live long and prosper are really the most important, and most compelling, parts of this movie. As for the evil, fictitious inquisition that basically tortures Sully (played by Tom Hanks in a typically riveting performance) and co-pilot Jeff Skiles (welcome back to decent movies, Aaron Eckhart!), well, that’s basically a lot of made-up horseshit.
That’s not to say Sully wasn’t tormented and obsessed in the days after the event, and the film does a good job displaying his internal struggles. The man had to land a plane after a bunch of birds flew into his engines, and then he probably did have a bunch of dicks asking him too many questions in the aftermath. Undoubtedly, he went through hell during that flight and is haunted until this day. Eastwood and Hanks deliver a compelling psychological drama about a man who doubts his own heroism, to the point of nightmarish visions and self deprecation.
Where the film goes a bit afoul is the depiction of a panel that didn’t even give Sully and his crew a chance to breathe after being plucked out of the Hudson. Yes, there was an inquiry, but it took place many months, not a few days after the event, and the panel’s findings were in favor of Sully and his maneuvers. Surely, Sully worried about the results of the investigation, as any man in his situation would, but there’s no doubt that Eastwood and his scripters got a little carried away creating bad guys.
As for the actual flight, one that only took a few minutes, it turns out a pretty decent movie can be made around that amazing occurrence as the centerpiece. The 86 year-old—eighty-freaking-six!—Eastwood has put together some of the best scenes of his moviemaking career in this film, especially when that plane takes the bird hit, can’t make it back to LaGuardia, and starts plummeting. It’s scary stuff, and he puts you in the cockpit and in a crowded coach every step of the way.
Hanks, deservedly so, should find himself in contention for another Oscar nomination. (Hey, he hasn’t gotten a nomination since Cast Away in 2001! That’s crazy!) His performance is understated, non-showy and straight-up brilliant. Anybody who has seen the real Sully conduct himself in an interview can see the man has a low-key public persona. Hanks gives us a dude with a lot going on beneath that quiet exterior.
Eckhart, whose career hit the skids not long after his bravura turn in The Dark Knight, gets things back on track as a man who can’t believe his friend is being grilled shortly after saving so many lives.
His work here is almost good enough to make you forget I, Frankenstein. Laura Linney plays Sully’s wife, Lorraine, who basically spends the whole film on the phone acting totally worried. Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn plays one of Sully’s interrogators down at the far end of the table, a role that doesn’t really forward her career.
Eastwood has been specializing in biographical films and real-life events in the latter part of his career. Sully joins American Sniper as films about real guys that bend the truth but still entertain a bit—unlike J. Edgar, which was a disaster.
I had my doubts that an entire motion picture could be made out of such a short event. As it turns out, Eastwood and friends had to make up some garbage to pad their running time to just over 90 minutes. Luckily for them, and for us, the great parts of this movie put it over the top. It doesn’t hurt that you have that Hanks guy heading up the cast.