Film Review: Sully is somewhat disappointing but isn’t a total write-off

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I had heard nothing but great things about this movie and knowing it was directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Tom Hanks, I was nothing short of excited. I learned something surprising though. It runs 96 minutes. Yeah… this Clint Eastwood-directed true life story was barely over an hour-and-a-half but yet it was supposed to cover a very harrowing series of events as well as the aftermath that would affect Sully, his family and his very livelihood. Indeed that proved to be one of the negative aspects of the film as I felt like there wasn’t enough time granted to this story, which is ultimately about a lot more than it portrays in the film.

We follow the story of Captain Chesley Sullenberger (Tom Hanks), who is faced with a tough decision in the midst of a plane crash along with his co-pilot, Jeffrey Sikes (Aaron Eckhart). Sully is forced to make a water landing in the mouth of the Hudson River and then manages to get all 155 passengers to safety. The issues occur after the incident though as prosecutors question Sully’s actions and whether or not he simply could have made a safe landing at a nearby runway. As he battles them in court, he also deals with the media’s portrayal of him as both positive and negative while trying to help his near-hysterical wife (Laura Linney) deal with it back home.

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The biggest problem with the film is the run time and the scope of the story itself. Most of the story takes place after the crash as we follow Sully going from hotel room to media appearance to hearings to phone calls with his wife. We never really get a sense of Sully as a human being though outside of some very basic characteristics. We know that Sully is a stern individual who sticks by his decisions, doesn’t waver with his convictions and has no inflated opinion of himself. However, the stuff with Hanks and Linney is tremendously uninspiring and his wife is basically reduced to a screaming/crying banshee for much of the movie. Their scenes feature Linney worrying about Hanks with his responses being varied versions of “I’m going to be okay – take care of the kids.” I’m wondering if there was more material with Linney left on the cutting room floor or if there was a lot of deleted material in general because it sure felt like it at times. The other major problem I had with the film was its structure/editing of the plot points. I do like the fact that the film doesn’t open with the titular crash but its placement in the film is still awkward and the fact that we almost see the same scene later in the film makes it almost seem like padding in a way.

The acting is one of the biggest positive points of the film. Tom Hanks is effortlessly great here as expected and the way in which he plays his role in such an understated manner definitely adds to the overall quality and realness of his performance. We never have a moment of disbelief in his convictions and relish every moment he’s on-screen because Tom knows how to soak up a movie like this and give his all to it. Aaron Eckhart does a similar thing with his role by underplaying it too and also pulls off a great performance. Eckhart has considerably less screen-time but I still remember much of it because of the way in which he commands the viewer’s attention. Laura Linney is the only other major performer that I can remember from the film and it is only because she takes on such a thankless role. Linney is just made to act scared, reassure Hanks, and look out the window at the media in a fearful manner. She does as much as she can with the role but she has literally nothing to work with here.

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Don’t get the idea that I hated this film or anything though because that’s not the case. It is a decent movie, it has some good acting and chemistry between its leads (as I mentioned above) and an exciting sequence in which we witness the plane crash take place. Hanks and Eckhart carry the film for the most part as Eastwood’s directing is a bit uneven. Sometimes it’s taut and suitably epic but at other times it feels too cloying and seems to be in love with the subject more than necessary. We don’t need some big, sweeping music to tell us that Sully is such a great dude. We can tell that enough by his actions and dialogue as well as the words spoken about him by his friends and acquaintances without Eastwood having to blatantly point it out every time.

So while it is a good and passable film, it is certainly a step down from most of Eastwood’s other directorial efforts and not the classic that it seems to be hyped up as by most major critics.

PS: There is a stinger during the credits featuring the real Captain Sullenberger that was fine but it felt like too much after watching this 96-minute love letter to the famed pilot.

***

 

Rating System:

* (Brutal; the worst rating)

** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)

*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)

**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)

***** (Flawless; a true achievement)