“Sully” stars Tom Hanks in the titular role of Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot of US Airways Flight 1549 which was forced to perform an emergency water landing on the Hudson River in January 2009. Aaron Eckhart stars as Sully’s co-pilot and Laura Linney plays his wife as Clint Eastwood directs.
On paper, this has all the workings of a major Oscar player: a real-life story about an American hero, with Tom Hanks on the poster and Clint Eastwood behind the camera. So it may be a little disappointing that “Sully” is good-not-great, but it is still a confidently made adult drama that gets the fall movie season off to a steady start.
It may be somewhat lazy to do, but I find myself comparing this to Eastwood’s last directorial effort, 2014’s “American Sniper.” That was also a good film that had greatness escape its grasp due mostly a shifting narrative; however a strong central performance and powerful set pieces hold it together.
To say Tom Hanks is the reason this film works would be a waste of ink (well, characters on a keyboard). His Sully is a soft spoken, polite-to-a-fault man who hates that people think he is a hero for doing what he views as simply his job. There isn’t much to his character and if this was most any other actor than Hanks it would probably be a boring one; however as we know by this point in his career, Hanks is not most any other actor.
Eckhart turns in a quietly great performance as Sully’s co-pilot and confidant, never questioning Sully’s decision to land the plane in the Hudson but you can see the fear in his eyes. Linney simply has a few scenes talking and crying to Sully on the phone as the obligatory worried wife and she is fine, but unlike Hanks you could slip any actress into the role and it would be unchanged.
As I said earlier, the film’s biggest problem is its narrative. It is based off an event that lasted two and a half minutes but is stretched into a 96 minute movie (very short by Eastwood standards) and although the film is paced well, the way it is constructed is a tad disjointed. The film constantly jumps between the present day investigation against Sully and different perspectives of the crash, and it get a little messy at points. At other times it comes off as underwhelming, as some viewpoints of the crash simply aren’t as engaging as others.
There also isn’t a whole lot on the line, as we know historically that Sully made the right choice (despite what the film wants you to think people think). The trailers also try and paint a Denzel Washington “Flight” plot of Sully being questioned about possible alcoholism or troubles at home, but those are questions answered in one breath and never touched on again.
“Sully” has a strong performance from Tom Hanks and the main crash sequence is invigorating and looks and sounds as real as anything. It may not flow as evenly as one may like or hope based on the talent involved, but just like the white haired seasoned professional on which the film is based, Eastwood shows that even at 86 years old, he still is as capable as anyone in Hollywood to craft a solid drama.
Critics Rating: 7/10