If Clint Eastwood’s Sully was not based upon a true story it would almost certainly be dismissed as highly derivative of Robert Zemeckis’ Flight (2012), another film about an airline pilot whose heroic prevention of a catastrophic crash is called into question by regulatory bureaucrats. Flight is a more interesting film. Where the hero of that movie is seriously flawed, Sully echoes Eastwood’s American Sniper (2014), and his iconic acting work as “Dirty” Harry Callahan in its sentiment: “Heroes are heroes, don’t ask questions.”
With Sully, Eastwood shows, as ever, that he is an able craftsman (with the exception of its plasticky CGI airplane, the film looks very good), but seems largely unconcerned with pacing and drama. Even at 96 minutes, the film drags. Sully is at its best when portraying its central event, the miraculous landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River, and the subsequent rescue efforts undertaken by the Coast Guard and a number of commercial vessels. Unfortunately, not enough of the film is dedicated to recreating “The Miracle on the Hudson” (the actual flight was only a few minutes long), and too much time is spent on the investigation of the incident by the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board), who are represented as a gaggle of bureaucratic weenies, daring to question the actions of a national treasure.
Hanks does characteristically fine work in the title role, recalling but not quite recapturing his sublime performance from Captain Phillips (2013), a different quiet, ordinary man acting heroically under extraordinary circumstances. Hanks has always been a very internal dramatic actor, which is what made his breakdown at the end of Captain Phillips so remarkable. Here he is only asked for stoicism, which he, as always, delivers. It is a skilled but not particularly compelling performance. In the most prominent supporting roles are Laura Linney, wasted in the tired “concerned wife” role, and Aaron Eckhart, who does fine work as the supportive sidekick, co-pilot Jeff Skiles, acting from behind a truly epic mustache that makes him look like a cartoonist’s rendering of a pilot. Also featured are Holt McCallany and Chris Bauer as Sully’s fellow kick-ass pilots, and Mike O’Malley, Anna Gunn, and Jamey Sheridan as craven NTSB functionaries.
The release of Sully marks the arrival of “Prestige Season” 2016, and it would not be a surprise if the film winds up being the highest-grossing of the Academy’s nominees for Best Picture. That is not a compliment, the movie is taking the path of least resistance toward box offices and Awards Season success: it is based on actual events, is morally and thematically un-challenging, artistically sound without being “artsy,” and entirely unlikely to offend anyone’s sensibilities, particularly the stodgy Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It is a wholly middlebrow affair, which isn’t a horrible thing per se, but it does not make for compelling viewing.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writer: Todd Komarnicki
Cinematographer: Tom Stern
Editor: Blu Murray
Starring: Tom Hanks, Laura Linney, Aaron Eckhart
English/ 96 min. / PG-13