Film Review: 'Sully'

Tom Hanks easily slips into his role as Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the hero pilot of the 2009 Hudson River water landing. (Warner Bros.)

Tom Hanks easily slips into his role as Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the hero pilot of the 2009 Hudson River water landing. (Warner Bros.)

★★★★1/2

You know you've made a difference in this world when you have a movie made about you. You know you've made an especially big difference if Tom Hanks is chosen to play you.

If Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the hero airline pilot who landed US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River in 2009, didn't feel like a hero already, then maybe he does now. But it wouldn't be terribly surprising if not, given his modesty and earnestness to safety and duty - both excellently portrayed by Hanks and framed well by director Clint Eastwood in the biopic Sully. It's a sweeping, tense, and even poetic homage to Sully's quick-thinking, heroism, and reserve in the face of overwhelming odds, as well as having the airline safety book thrown at him by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Sully is famously known for being a rather "shy and reticent" man, even after his newfound celebrity. Tom Hans perfectly executes those sides of the man's personality, fitting right into Clint Eastwood's muted, yet resonant movie. (Warner Bros.)

Sully is famously known for being a rather "shy and reticent" man, even after his newfound celebrity. Tom Hans perfectly executes those sides of the man's personality, fitting right into Clint Eastwood's muted, yet resonant movie. (Warner Bros.)

A quick refresher: Sully lands a commercial plane on the Hudson River (along with co-pilot Jeff Skiles (played by Aaron Eckhart in the film), saving the lives of all 155 passengers aboard. The NTSB then investigates Sully, arguing that he could have simply turned around to LaGuardia Airport to make a safe landing. Sully, meanwhile, deals with all of the attention garnered from becoming an overnight celebrity and is tortured by thoughts of what could have happened if he made even the smallest mistake in landing that plane. Or did he even make the right call?

Surprisingly, Eastwood takes an unexpected angle in Sully by making this airplane drama somewhat nonlinear and far more cerebral, with flashbacks to the landing interspersed with verbal bouts at the NTSB hearings. It's a refreshing approach for a biopic that does an incredible job of capturing the pilot's feelings in each step of the aftermath of the Hudson River landing.

Eastwood, who has a particular affinity for cataloging famous American figures (see Chris Kyle in 2014's American Sniper), delves into the very psyche - and all of his insecurities - of Sully. They vary in size and scope: he has hallucinations of news anchors talking smack about him; harrowing visions of his plane crashing into Manhattan; constantly wondering if he did everything right, even with forty-plus years of flight experience. The Manhattan flashbacks are especially chilling given the time of year, but it's a disturbingly authentic portrayal of what assuredly must have been playing in Sully's head both inside and outside the cockpit. Even one of his colleagues speaks the unspeakable: it's been a long time since New York had news this good. Especially involving an airplane." And who better than Hanks to be the ultimate vehicle of Eastwood's storytelling? That's the magic about Hanks: you know exactly what to expect, and he still blows you away.

Strong directing, cinematography, performances, editing, and score are all high points of Sully, making it just as much of a popcorn-muncher as a sweeping drama. (Warner Bros.)

Strong directing, cinematography, performances, editing, and score are all high points of Sully, making it just as much of a popcorn-muncher as a sweeping drama. (Warner Bros.)

But where Sully's appeal is the greatest - and the most fascinating - is how it manages to be a sweeping a poetic tribute without ever having to say it loudly. There's no heroic overtures, no flying off into the sunset, no ultimate prize. In the end, Sully always considered himself a man who was just doing his job - knowing that each passenger and crew member aboard his flight was still alive after the fact was just fine by him. And Clint Eastwood's 95-minute ode to Sully's sense of duty and perseverance is befitting for such a modest man. Get used to the spotlight again, Sully; your movie is one of the most touching of the year.

Rated PG-13. 95 minutes.

Written by Todd Komarnicki (screenplay) and Chelsey Sullenberger & Jeffrey Zaslow (book).

Directed by Clint Eastwood.

Starring Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, and Laura Linney.

Sully One Sheet

© 2015 Rex J. Lindeman.   All rights reserved.   |   (760) 274-5948   |   rexlindeman@gmail.com

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