Watching Sully makes you wonder what Clint Eastwood eats for breakfast; at 86 he’s still a strong filmmaker, delivering consistently watchable films every three years. Even if you were disappointed with some of his previous films you should head over to the theaters because Sully is his best movie since Million Dollar Baby.
On paper it seems like Sully didn’t deserve to be a full length film because it’s based on a real life incident that lasted a little more than three minutes.
Eastwood’s measured direction and Tom Hanks’ immensely likable performance as the title character, however, cause no such concern.
This is a film that gets your attention from start to end, and at its most poignant moment even makes you reach out for your hankies.
Hanks’ Sully is Captain Chesley Sullenberg, a pilot on US airways who boards an ordinary flight from NYC to taxi 155 passengers to Charlotte. Soon after take off disaster strikes as passing birds cause damage to the flight’s engine.
Despite being advised to return to the airport, Sully realises that the flight won’t be able to make it back and is forced to land on a river. The media hails him as a hero, but some members of the National Transportation Safety Board are convinced it was Sully’s error in judgment and attempt to bring him down.
What works is that Eastwood doesn’t overdramatise the flight’s accident, relegating the incident to almost the halfway point in the film.
The investigation of the incident, however, is dramatized to the most tension filled possible degree, with some members of the NTSB (Mike O Malley, Anna Gunn, Jamie Sheridan) coming across as hard boiled ‘movie villains’.
The character dynamics, and not the epic disaster movie spectacle, is where Eastwood’s patient and methodical direction suits the story of Sully, and even if you know the outcome of the investigation it’s easy to be entertained by sheer tension built around the case.
Hanks once again slips into his character like hand in glove. His non-movie star persona fits perfectly into the jaded character of Sully, especially in the moments when the character’s confidence and integrity seems to come crumbling down with the media attention shifting his image from a hero to something far less.
When most Hollywood movies tend to transform a white male hero into the bastion of America Hank’s heroism is understated, with an air of quiet dignity.
Much like his turn in Captain Phillips it’s a refreshing change for audiences generally pummeled on their heads with chest beating cinematic heroes.
The hidden gem in the film is the character of Aaron Eckhart as Sully’s co pilot Jeff Skiles who eventually gets closer to Sully after sharing a traumatic incident.
Two people bonding because they experienced something horrific together is an interesting layer to explore and one wishes Sully contained more of this plot thread.
That would, of course, make the movie much longer than its razor sharp 95 minute run time, which may or may not be a bad thing.