Sully (2016)

Review #1,344

Director:  Clint Eastwood
Cast:  Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney
Plot:  The story of Chesley Sullenberger, who became a hero after gliding his plane along the water in the Hudson River, saving all of the flight's 155 crew and passengers.

Genre:  Biography / Drama
Awards:  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Sound Editing
Runtime:  96min
Rating:  PG13 for some peril and brief strong language.
Distributor:  Warner Brothers
Singapore Distributor:  Golden Village Pictures

“Everything is unprecedented until it happens for the first time.”

As we marvel at how old Clint Eastwood is—he's 86 and has directed an astonishing 14 films since the turn of the century—we also recognize a filmmaker perfectly at ease with himself and has nothing to prove to anyone anymore.  He is a quiet storyteller, never a flamboyant visionary, yet as his economical and sensitive filmmaking style has proven since Mystic River (2003), Eastwood takes very American stories and gives the world a slice of what it means to be American, no matter when, no matter where.

Sully comes at a time when American screen heroes are clad in capes and colourful costumes.  Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger (played by the always reliable Tom Hanks), is a reminder that real heroes come dressed in well-ironed uniforms and have no special powers.  They save the day with smart and quick thinking, and sheer resolve and grit. 

The ‘Miracle on the Hudson' incident was one of the most life-affirming events at the tail end of the 2000s—Sullenberger landed a passenger plane on the Hudson River after all of its engines had failed due to an unexpected encounter with birds.  There were no fatalities that day. 

Eastwood takes the story and gives it the big screen treatment.  However, this is no epic, nor is it meant to be a spectacle, even if it appears to be marketed as one.  Instead, Sully is a low-key dramatization of the incident, married to an investigative inquiry that tries to prove, albeit ludicrously, that Sullenberger made the wrong decision.

The result is an oddly-structured film with flashbacks, re-enactments and nightmares.  It is also one of Eastwood's shortest films.  The pacing is not always consistent, and there’s a feeling that the movie could have soared higher, or asked more of its subject matter. 

Perhaps the most interesting and all-too-obvious subtext comes from Eastwood’s insertion of scenes of planes crashing into buildings, images that haunt Hanks' character (what if that day ended in tragedy?), yet also incur the collective trauma of 9/11.  I am sure it was a conscious decision by the iconic director, and with humble intent to exorcise the ghosts of 2001, however difficult that may be. 

Sully’s story is a timely reminder to Americans to remain focused on humanity and the spirit of togetherness, even when their politics seem to chart dangerous paths. 

Verdict:  Not a great film by any measure, this oddly-structured dramatization and investigative inquiry into the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ incident is a mildly-affirming work by Clint Eastwood.


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