Monday, 12 September 2016


Many of Clint Eastwood’s directorial efforts focus on the story of an everyman - someone thrown into a situation where their actions will ultimately define them - and those same themes are very much evident in his latest film Sully, which follows Captain Chesley Sullenberger in the events following his successful water-landing which came to be known as the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’.

It’s January 15th, 2009, and veteran US Airways pilot Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) is flying US Airways Flight 1549 out of New York’s LaGuardia Airport alongside First Officer Jeffrey Skiles (Aaron Eckhart). Three minutes after take-off, a flock of birds strike the plane, disabling both the engines. With no airports in safe gliding distance, Sully performs a risky water-landing on the frigid surface of the Hudson River. All 155 on board survive and the event is heralded as “the most successful ditching in aviation history”. But despite the success and Sully’s new Hero label, an investigation into the flight begins to question if the ditching was necessary and if Captain Sullenberger put the lives of those on board at undue risk.

Eastwood’s past three films (J. Edgar, Jersey Boys and American Sniper) were all biopics and surprisingly underwhelming ones at that. Many would argue that his last truly great film was Gran Torino eight years ago, and Sully unfortunately looks to continue that streak. Where American Sniper ruffled many feathers for it’s uber-conservative, hefty dose of pure patriotism, the problem with Sully lies more with its construction, and how it attempts to turn this amazing but very brief 6 minute flight into a feature. The film excels when we go back in time to the crash-landing sequence, and when we reach the climax of the investigation in the final act of the film, but much of the rest of the run-time consists of Sully engaging in snooze-fest conversations on the phone with his wife (Laura Linney is not given a lot to work with and as such doesn’t give much of a performance), Sully taking runs, Sully having nightmares about the crash, the NTSB holding evil board meetings, and some (not-so) thinly-veiled references to 9/11.

Sully falls into the same trap that Flight did - albeit less so - with just too much of that Hollywood veneer to tell a thrilling story. I kept thinking throughout that if Eastwood adopted more of a documentary style like Paul Greengrass did with the excellent United 93, perhaps the human story would have felt less in your face, and there would have been less padding. If you focus on the 20-30 minutes that covers the accident and the final NTSB hearing, you could probably cut Sully into a really well-constructed 60 minute film, but nobody would be brave enough to produce/distribute it and I doubt many patrons would be willing to pay full price for it.

It won’t surprise anybody to know that Tom Hanks is able to transform himself into Sully with ease - he’s become accustomed to playing an everyman over the years - so let’s just say he’s as fantastic as you would expect and leave it at that. You don’t often see Aaron Eckhart in these more subtle films and he too is excellent. Although I mentioned before that Linney doesn’t have much to work with, and really there’s a surprising amount of dodgy performances and even some overacting in parts of this film. You could chalk this down to Eastwood’s one-take-then-lunch style but I think Todd Komarnicki’s dialogue is probably more to blame. There’s also the NTSB characters who are really just doing their job but seem to be tailored to look unreasonable and arrogant to the audience, then they turn around in a final dislocated moment of nostalgia-overstretch and say “Hey, we’ve always claimed that you're an American Hero”, which takes away some of the film’s credibility.

Sully is an ambitious film that just doesn’t really have enough content to stretch to feature length and remain engaging. The flight sequences are extremely well executed and the Hanks/Eckhart duo bring subtle charisma to the screen, but the padding and less competent supporting performances keep Sully grounded in average territory.

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