ScreenCritics Adam checks out Tom Hanks latest biopic ‘Sully’. Does it stick the landing or is the movie a disaster upon arrival?
It’s getting towards the end of the year, the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting colder. It can only mean one thing, it’s Oscar season! Yes, with the Academy Awards just a few months away, this is the time of the year when films that would like to get the prestigious award get released because everyone has started to assume that the voters all have short memories and won’t give props to a film released in June. It does mean a rise in quality on the average, but they can end up being a bit formulaic because film makers know what the voters what. Can Sully avoid those pitfalls and become a good film that deserves those awards?
On a routine flight from LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte, a plane’s engines get disabled when birds fly into them. The pilot Chesley ‘Sulley’ Sullenberger (Tom Hanks, The Da Vinci Code) then performs a miracle by being able to land the jet in the Hudson river, something that seemed impossible to do without killing some of the passengers. However questions are soon raised whether or not Sully could have got the plane back to the airport rather than trying the risky Hudson landing.
In many ways, this film has some similarities to the film Flight. That was a movie where the pilot played by Denzel Washington also pulls off a miracle to save a crashing aeroplane before questions start to be raised. However the issue with that film was that it started with a truly spectacular sequence, something really remarkable and proper grip the edges of your seat stuff, before descending into melodrama. The director for Sully Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby) has obviously seen that film, because he very skilfully avoids starting his film off with the best moment with the use of flashbacks. Oh I’m not going to tell you it’s anything special, but to spread out the different moments of the landing such as getting on the plane, the actual landing and then the rescue afterwards means if you are here to see that moment, you aren’t just going to tune out after the first twenty minutes.
In terms of the actual plot, it is exactly what you’d expect from a cranky old Republican. Bureaucracy is rubbish and stops us from worshiping our heroes. The bulk of the story deals with the various hearings that Sully has to face following the crash questioning whether or not he could have got the plan back to LaGuardia or another airport, rather than risk landing in the Hudson like he did. For those who are unaware, water landings are incredibly dangerous and it usually ends up with the plane breaking up and people dying, so that’s why it was a miracle that everyone survived and why no one would have landed in the right mind on the Hudson unless they had to. It could lead to an interesting question, is Sully really a hero for saving all those people or could he have done all he did but with a lot less drama and risk?
However, Eastwood isn’t really interested in that question and more wants to be angry at all those who questioned the integrity and heroism of Sully. The NTSB are depicted, to be quite frank, as a load of assholes who seem determined to make Sully seem guilty of pilot error and therefore never allow him to fly ever again. They are mean, they don’t care about the fact Sully is obviously suffering from PTSD, they just want to denigrate an American hero. And if you enjoy this film will depend if you can get behind the demonisation of public servants doing their job. In reality the NTSB were nothing like this, with Hanks himself insisting the names of the members of the investigating board be changed at the start of the film making process because of how different it was.
And even though I am some one who loves to rail at government bureaucracy, even I got annoyed at this. It is insulting to the people to the people who were simply following due process and making sure that regular folk like you and me weren’t put in unnecessary risk. Of course, all of this is so we can have what is a very well done scene at the climax where the fuddy duddies in their suits are shown up while Sully is shown to be a hero all along. Of course, there is a sense of euphoria at this because Sully is a likable character, we’ll get to that, and because Eastwood is a great story-teller, but it is still insulting to a group of people who work to keep us safe in the air.
The thing that stops me from hating on this film is because of the great performances. Eastwood always gets great stuff out of his actors and it’s no different here, with Hanks putting in a great turn as Sully. He keeps things very subtle, making the pilot seem almost embarrassed by all the fame that follows him after the miracle on the Hudson. He mainly allows his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart, The Dark Knight) to do the talking, and Eckhart is another one who puts in a great performance as you can see him recoil in disgust anytime that Sully is questioned on what he did that day. It keeps the film ticking even if you get annoyed at certain aspects of the film.
Considering who follows me on Twitter and might end up checking out my reviews on here, I imagine some of you will love Sully. It’s really the story of a hero being dragged down by the government and ending up rising higher than them because he’s just that god damned great and that appeals to a lot of people. I get that, I am sympathetic to that sort of thing. Yet that other section of Twitter followers I have will probably be enraged by this because of the demonisation of government workers and changes to the story to make them seem completely evil and nasty. I fall in the middle of this, I was irritated by this but it wasn’t enough to overshadow the clever storytelling and great acting. It’s a solid enough film, and much like Eastwood’s previous American Sniper, your enjoyment will end up depending on your politics.