Director: Clint Eastwood
Screenwriter: Todd Komarnicki
Cast: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Mike O’Malley, Anna Gunn, and Laura Linney
When the FX series American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson and the subsequent ESPN documentary OJ: Made in America came out earlier this year, many wondered if anyone would watch them. The events detailed in these shows happened only 20 years ago and they were so overtly covered by the media that many wondered, “What’s left to tell?” The same can be said about the announcement for the film Sully, a film based on the “Miracle on the Hudson” where Captain Chesley Sullenberger successfully landed a commercial aircraft on the Hudson River with no casualties. And the events of this film took place only 8 years ago!
What happened with the OJ Simpson programs was rather surprising. People watched. Lots of people. And awards upon awards were laden upon these projects. The reason being that creative measures and expert storytelling were combined with strong performances and new information to create an emotive project that stood for more than simply a retreading of public knowledge. Fortunately, Clint Eastwood’s film detailing Sullenberger’s story follows suit by avoiding pointless exposition and crafting a deeply watchable and at times powerfully evocative depiction of American heroism in the face of insurmountable odds.
Tom Hanks plays Sullenberger, nicknamed Sully, a commercial pilot with over 40 years of experience in the air and over a million passengers safely delivered. The film opens post-event with a shaken Sullenberger preparing for a hearing with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) who believe Sullenberger may have been negligent in his decision to not return to LaGuardia Airport. Sullenberger and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) are holed up in a Marriott hotel in a surreal twist of fate where on one hand Americans are celebrating their heroism and on the other, they are being investigated for endangering 155 passengers aboard the plane.
Sully is not a biopic. It is based upon Chesley Sullenberger’s memoir Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters and focuses almost entirely on the events of January 15, 2009 and the subsequent investigation. Bits of ‘Sully’s’ past are sprinkled throughout, but the film’s main objective is to feature the tremendous fortune that results from having the right people performing the right jobs. Time is a major motif in the film, making outstanding use of factual evidence to show us just how much can happen in a short amount of time – for better or for worse. Hanks plays Sullenberger with quiet confidence, and Eastwood crafts his story with intensity and enlightenment. The effects in the plane crash scenes are second to none, and at a svelte 96 minute running time, the film clips along at a swift pace. One criticism on the film would be its handling of Sullenberger’s wife Lorraine, played by Laura Linney. The film holds her at arm’s length and only features her in reactionary mode on the phone with Sully or as a way to illustrate the invasiveness of the media on the Sullenbergers’ daily lives. Linney joins a long list of good actresses cast in good films as wives who are written as screenplay tools to manipulate emotion. Think Helen Hunt in another Hanks film, Cast Away. This is becoming a rather sad state of things, and is only highlighted by a scene during the credits where the real Lorraine Sullenberger gives a tearful speech to the survivors of Flight 1549 about how these survivors continue to send Christmas and greeting cards to them every year. This little moment in the credits gives more depth, heart, and life to who she is than anything Laura Linney does in the film.
Sully is a solid film delivering its message and entertainment as effectively as Sullenberger’s miraculous water landing on the Hudson. Like it’s protagonist, the film showcases a couple of the right men for the job (as well as the right woman for a job that wasn’t there). A testament to superlative acting and creative filmmaking that breathes freshness into a story so recently and so publicly told. B+
Sully is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 1 hour and 36 minutes.