Directed by: Clint Eastwood Starring: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Anna Gunn Running Time: 96 mins
There are a few questions hanging over Sully. Chief among them being, did this really need to be made into a film?
Based on the true story of the “Miracle on the Hudson” – an event that happened less than a decade ago that will undoubtedly be fairly fresh in many viewers’ minds – what can this Clint Eastwood-directed adaptation bring to the story? Can it justify its existence and create a compelling narrative? The answers are not all that positive.
Sully tells the story of Chesley “Sully” Sullenburger, the hero pilot who in 2009 successfully pulled off a near impossible feat, saving 155 lives in process. Shortly after take-off US Airways Flight 1549 was bombarded by a flock of geese. Upon crashing into the plane a number of the birds were sucked in to the engines, causing a previously unheard-of catastrophic dual engine failure. With no thrust and a plane filled with 155 people flying over a crowded metropolitan area, Captain Sullenburger was left with no other option but to attempt a water landing on the Hudson River. That he succeeded was nothing short of a miracle.
In the aftermath however, Sully’s decision was called into question. Was one of the engines actually still working? Could he have made it to La Guardia or Teterboro airport? Did he endanger the lives of the passengers on board by attempting a nearly impossible water landing?
For anyone still wondering about the answers to these questions it has all been explored at length in the media, but hell, Clint Eastwood is here to cover it all again for us anyway. One thing is certain – you couldn’t accuse him of not going into detail. By the time Sully is over you will know the events of the crash inside out. Possibly to a greater extent than some of those who lived through it.
Like any story based on true events there is some twisting of the facts here to suit the narrative. Many have taken issue for example with the films portrayal of the National Transit Safety Board. While the script chooses to demonize them in service of providing hurdles for our protagonist to overcome, the NTSB have claimed they were never so harsh on Captain Sullenburger, or as reckless in their investigation. The film also features a lot of repetition of flashbacks to the ill-fated flight. We see the crash itself no less than 3 or 4 times. Not to mention the handful of alternate “nightmare” versions envisioned by Sully in his troubled post-landing state of mind.
Which brings us to the film’s performances: What is there to say about Tom Hanks that hasn’t been said a million times before. The guy is an American national treasure at this stage. Hanks turns in a reliably solid performance as Sully, the heroic but troubled everyman whose only crimes are caring too much and being great at his job. Understandably, with the film being named after his character, most of the rest of the cast are simply there to fill out the background. Aaron Eckhart and Laura Linney are present as Sully’s co-pilot and wife respectively. They don’t have much to do. It is nice though to see Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn pop up as prominent member of the NTSB investigation board.
Much has been made of the fact that Sully was filmed almost entirely with IMAX cameras to take full advantage of the format. As a result we are certainly treated to some great shots of New York and the Hudson. In reality though this feels like a film that could be viewed on any old screen – The whole thing looks more like a made for TV special than any sort of grand cinematic experience. Clint Eastwood’s directing is never particularly inspired and his brand of libertarian patriotism is tiresome.
An hour and ten minutes or so into the movie a character asks Sully if this will be over soon; he assures us it will be. Running at just over an 1 hr 30 mins total the film still begins to drag towards the end – especially when we are treated to one last unnecessary flashback of the plane crash (this time from slightly different angles that add absolutely nothing to our already comprehensive understanding of the events). We simply see it because the characters are listening back to the flight recordings for the first time.
Not to second guess a revered Oscar winning director here, but what is gained from having this climactic scene play out as yet another flashback? Just an idea, but perhaps it could have been more effective if the characters in the courtroom were shown reacting to the audio recording. Show us the faces of the investigators (who had only been dealing with facts on paper thus far) as they begin to grasp the reality of the actual event for the first time. Show us how the raw unfiltered memory affects those who lived through it. Show us anything except what we’ve already seen.
In any case, the film cuts back to the hearing afterwards, and we do get some brief reactions. This is followed by a completely over the top and fortuitously timed series of last minute revelations and confessions that wrap things up in a nice neat little package. It feels like the closing minutes a hypothetical CSI: Aviation Squad episode. And with that a character cracks a joke. Cue uproarious feel good laughter from the cast, freeze frame, and fade to black. I kid you not.
So did Sully really need to be made? No. Does the film justify its existence by shedding light on some previously hidden depths contained within the story? Not really. Is it a relatively compelling film none the less? Sure; for the most part. The ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ is a pretty amazing story to begin with and it’s always easy to get caught up in the human interest drama of a plane crash.
Other than carelessly damaging the reputation of an impartial and well respected investigatory board however, Sully has nothing particularly remarkable or new to offer.
The closing credits do feature some touching present day footage of the real life survivors and the man himself. So there’s that at least…
Sully is released in Irish Cinemas this Friday (2nd Dec)(2.5 / 5)