A film that dares to ask just how many times you can watch the same plane crash.
Sully is the latest film from director Clint Eastwood, following up American Sniper with yet another film about an all-American hero. The film is based on the astonishing true story of Sully Sullenburger, a US Airways pilot who is forced to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River after a flock of birds destroy both of his plane’s engines. Sully somehow manages to successfully land the plane on the river and save all 155 lives on board. While this serves backdrop for the events of the film, the real meat of the story lies in the conflict between Sully and the NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board, who are investigating whether or not Sully’s course of action in landing the plane was correct.
The conflict seems so manufactured though. Eastwood’s portrayal of the NTSB is so unnecessarily villainous and confrontational, bullish in their attempt to prove that Sully made the wrong choice in landing the plane on the Hudson. The NTSB is given no real reason to go after Sully so viciously, which lead to the drama feeling forced and over-the-top, and all the more difficult to become invested in.
The harsh treatment from the NTSB leads Sully to begin to question whether or not he actually made the right choice, if he is actually a hero, or simply a man who unnecessarily endangered the lives of 155 people. This is the portion of the story that Sully really excels at, and I would lay that success at the feet of Tom Hanks’ unsurprisingly excellent performance.
Hanks plays Sully with quiet and reserved nuance, almost underplaying the role. Sully is just an everyday guy who managed to pull of a miraculously feat, and he’s not quite sure how to deal with that. He doesn’t see himself as a hero like the rest of the world sees him, but as a man who was simply doing his job. Hanks channels all these aspects of the character beautifully, I just wish we got to dig a little deeper into the character psychologically.
Other than those surface level characteristics, the film never quite gave us a chance to get to know these characters. Sully is accompanied by his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) alongside all of the investigations, but other than the fact that Skiles supports Sully 100% and has an exceedingly epic mustache, I couldn’t tell you a damn thing about him. Eckhart gives a solid performance, but there isn’t anything there for him to dig in to. Sully’s wife Lorraine (Laura Linney) plays a small role in the film, but with just a few token conversations over the phone with her husband, her character feels entirely extraneous.
The majority of the issues in the film lie with its script, penned by Todd Komarnicki. The characters are under-written, the main conflict is oversold, and there is no real through line which connects the sequences together outside of the plane crash, which isn’t actually seen until its randomly plopped into the middle of the film (and then experienced about three more times by the time the film is over). There is no flow of events in the film. Honestly, you could rearrange the majority of scenes in the film in seemingly random order and not much would change.
The film looks nice at the very least. For a film that takes place mainly inside various hotel rooms, Eastwood and cinematographer Tom Stern manage to make the film visually pleasing. When it comes to the plane crash itself, the film knocks it out of the park. Outside of the hilariously bad CGI of the plane, and I’m talking SyFy original movie bad here, the crash itself is shot with such intense fervor that I found myself on the edge of my seat when it occurred, knowing full well the outcome. At least the first time it was shown. Eastwood elects to showcase the plane crash multiple times throughout the film, and it ends up feeling redundant.
There’s this lingering feeling that Sully could have been a much better film if it had a better script. Tom Hanks‘ acting is top-notch, with the rest of the cast is solid at the very least, and Eastwood has proven himself to be a talented director (American Sniper withstanding), but unfortunately neither of them could elevate Sully above its mediocre script.
If I had to choose once scene in the film that encapsulates all of its issues so perfectly, it would be the very final scene. Without going into spoilers, the NTSB reaches its conclusion, Eckhart quickly cracks a joke, and the film fades to black. That’s it. There’s no real resolution, no sense of closure, no emotional catharsis. The film simply ends. Not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with nothing. Which is fine I guess, but that isn’t exactly roaring praise now is it?