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[Review] – ‘Sully’

 
 
Overview
 

Release Date: 2nd December 2016
 
Director: Clint Eastwood
 
Writer: Todd Kormarnicki [Based on the book ‘Highest Duty’ by Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow]
 
Cast: Tom Hanks - Aaron Eckhart - Laura Linney - Anna Gunn - Michael Rapaport
 
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4/5


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Posted December 4, 2016 by

 
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Review:

There are parts of ‘Sully’ that, to use test screening vernacular, ‘strike you the wrong way’.

The film, written by Todd Kormanicki (whose credits include the unmemorable 2007 Halle Berry-Bruce Willis thriller ‘Perfect Stranger’) and directed by double Oscar-winner Clint Eastwood (whose credits need no introduction, but if you must, ‘Unforgiven’, ‘Million Dollar Baby’, ‘American Sniper’) is an examination of the real-life event of 15 January 2009 in which Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger landed US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River in New York City after both its engines were taken by ‘bird strike’. The film is structured around the inquiry into the incident. Did Sully make the right choice instead of flying the aircraft with 155 souls on board back to La Guardia Airport or to a nearby airport in New Jersey?

On the review panel, a non-speaking part is given to an elderly African-American actor. He is there, quite simply, to make up the numbers – a token nod to diversity. As the panel questions Sully’s judgement, he sits there motionless, little more than a seat-filler.

Then there’s Sully’s wife Melissa (Laura Linney) who doesn’t immediately understand that he has been in an accident. The movie is punctuated by his phone calls to her, but at no point does she get on a plane to stand by his side. Neither do his two daughters (referred to but not seen) come to the phone.

But before I go any further I want to underline that this is a ‘four star’ movie, a solid gripping piece of work, by my reckoning Clint Eastwood’s shortest movie, compact, focussed and inspirational. It is anchored by a terrific low-key performance by Tom Hanks, a lot less solidly built than the real Chesley Sullenburger who has a lifetime of pulling thrusters, but empathetic and convincing nevertheless.

This is a film for our time. It is about vindication: of judgement against computer analysis, of experience instead of trying to save the airline’s bottom line – is there insurance for a water landing? Its dramatic structure is – to use a non-aviation analogy – on solid ground.

Early on in the movie, we see Sully jogging outside the hotel where he is staying. A car almost hits him (film cliché 101). He is anonymous. He is also old and determined to keep his senses sharp. He could have been played by Clint Eastwood himself who, as an actor-statesman, is persona non grata for being critical of President Obama. (If an incoming US President is known as ‘President-Elect’, is the outgoing one ‘President Eject’?) Eastwood absents himself, even from the publicity tour, because he doesn’t want to be the story. Yet this is a story about a professional whose motives and instincts are mistrusted. This is personal.

Sully is under scrutiny alongside his loyal first officer, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart). The younger man has no doubts that Sully did the right thing. However, Sully’s language gives the aviation review panel no confidence. ‘How did you know the engines went out?’ ‘I felt it.’

In the review panel’s world, mechanical failure requires mechanical procedure – swift action. But this takes out diagnosis, evaluation and a decisive response.

The plane landing is what audiences will want to see and we get a throwback to the 1970s airplane disaster movies: last-minute passengers rushing to the plane and natter amongst the stewardesses. For a plane heading for Charlotte, North Carolina, there are not many Southern accents. When bird strike – geese flying into the engine – occurs, we get a real sense of what is supposed to happen, not what happens in hyped up movies. The authenticity heightens the intensity.

In the end it is Sully against the computer: who will win? But this is Tom Hanks we are talking about, the James Stewart or Henry Fonda of our time (in his day, Fonda would be perfect casting). Hanks hasn’t worn this much white make up since it was added digitally for ‘The Polar Express’ in which he was motion captured by Robert Zemeckis. I use to think ‘motion capture’ was cleaning up dog poop, but there you go. The answer, set to a soaring score (no irony intended) is satisfying. I was left wondering: did anyone sue the airline afterwards for delays? If you want to know what the real Captain Sullenberger looks like, stay for the closing credits. Or you could google him; both are valid.

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Larry Oliver
@LarryOliverFilm
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