Movie Review: Sully

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Follows the investigation of the pilot who successfully landed a plane on the Hudson river in 2009 without casualties.

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Clint Eastwood, 2016

In January of 2009, the plane that Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) and his co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) were flying hit a flock of birds minutes after take-off. Thinking quickly, Sully made the decision to land the plane on the Hudson River. The landing was successful, and every single passenger survived with only relatively minor injuries. The plane company, unhappy that the plane was lost, keeps Sully in New York to investigate the crash. They become convinced that the plane could have made it to one of the two airports in the city and made a safe landing. In the meantime, Sully struggles to contain his own PTSD, and to connect with his wife Lorraine (Laura Linney), who is back home in Texas. The investigation causes more stress to Sully, who was convinced that landing on the Hudson was the only viable option.

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Sully works very hard to be an inspirational film. Tom Hanks does a commendable job in the lead role, and is ably supported by Aaron Eckhart at peak charm as the wittier, but less heroic Skiles. Hanks portrays Sully as a troubled hero, a man who carries a great deal of responsibility on his stable shoulders. The film is slickly put together. It’s shot beautifully, and Clint Eastwood is nothing if not a master of manipulating the audience’s feelings. It’s awfully easy to sympathise with the hard-working hero as he suffers through flashbacks to the almost-crash, or when he repeatedly asks for a count of the survivors. His quiet confidence in his own work is refreshing, making it more heartbreaking when he starts to doubt himself. It’s unfortunate that the movie couldn’t bend the truth in order to get Tom Hanks and Laura Linney in the same scene together; they’re both good actors, but Linney is reduced to the “crying wife on the telephone” trope that Laura Linney is most definitely too good for.

Following the timeline of Sully is a bit of a nightmare. The decision to focus almost exclusively on the investigation hamstrings the film. Eastwood repeatedly takes huge chunks of time to flash back to the past. We get one flashback to Sully’s teen years – just the one, we never see anything else from his past, for some weird reason – and one very long flashback to the initial crash in the middle of a scene where Sully drinks at a bar. It’s the first time we see the crash all the way through, and by the time we get back to the bar we’ve completely forgotten about the main plot. The centrepiece of the film, the crash itself is incredibly impressive…which I’m guessing is why we flash back to it, in its entirety, no fewer than three times. Not even a little bit kidding. It’s also a celebration of male stoicism. Sully essentially runs off his PTSD, and there’s no grey in the tale. He’s proven right in pretty much every instance, erasing any more interesting themes that could be discussed. There also aren’t a lot of women in this film – Linney, the flight attendants, and Anna Gunn as one of the antagonists investigating the crash pretty much cover it, and none of them get much to do. The film is workmanlike, but not a masterpiece.

Sully on IMDb

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