★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★
Director Clint Eastwood’s latest biopic Sully is a simple yet enjoyable film. It follows the true story of the “Miracle on the Hudson” when airline pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) water lands a jetliner after losing both engines to birdstrike. The entire ordeal lasts about 5 minutes but they manage to work this into a watchable 90 minute film. The movie doesn’t just cover the miracle, but also Sully’s pilot life, his PTSD after the incident and how he’s dealing with fame.
Sully is an unassuming yet passionate pilot with over 40 years of experience. After landing a commercial aircraft on the Hudson and saving the lives of 150 people, he has a slate of new problems. For one, he no longer has anonymity, which is a lot for the shy guy to handle. Everyone, including press, swarms the American hero. Even worse, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are investigating him and being rather accusatory. The film takes a few liberties and treats the entire investigation like a witch-hunt out to diminish Sully’s character. In Sully, they believe he reacted poorly and could have safely flown the plane back to the airport. In actuality, there wasn’t nearly as much exaggerated contentiousness. In fact, the real investigators are angered by their portrayal in the film. If you want to look up the hearings you can but they may bore you to tears. The film climaxes with Sully showing up the villainous investigators and making them look foolish. It feels a little silly, but it’s hard to blame the filmmakers. They’re trying to make a movie about an event with a happy ending and little turmoil. They have to invent conflict where they can to make it more appealing.
Hanks is still on top of his game, particularly in the scenes with little dialogue when he relies on his facial expressions/body language to show us what he’s feeling. At this point in his career, his level of professionalism and dedication goes without saying. He’s not doing a Sully impression, but more of an interpretation of the man himself. The rest of the cast is more than adequate in their limited roles. One beef though is that Laura Linney is wasted in her part as Sully’s wife because she’s a true talent. In the few scenes where she’s in communication with Sully, her only emotion is exasperation. We never get to see how she’s truly processing the event, talking to her children or even reuniting with her husband. These scenes would have given Linney much more depth and allowed audiences to relate better to her on a human level.
The film goes briefly into passenger stories without going overboard. After the plane lands, there’s chaos, injuries and risk of hypothermia due to the frigid water. But again, considering what could have been, everything turns out well. In real life, only two passengers required overnight hospitalization. The real damage is emotional, as several passengers will go on to deal with PTSD as a result of the crash. In the film, Sully is no different. He suffers from multiple hallucinations of planes crashing into buildings throughout. The real Sully has since worked through his PTSD.
What’s nice about Sully is that it’s a feel good story where everyone wins. It shows a nice guy rising to the occasion, saving lives, and becoming a reluctant American hero. While the picture exaggerates here and there, they don’t go crazy with it. Sully may bore some movie-goers who want more action and carnage. That’s because in this movie (like the real story) everything turns out a-okay. Everyone survives with minimal damage… and that’s a good thing. Boring is good.
The Good: There’s no better person to play Sully than the equally beloved Hanks. He gives a strong performance in this unique character study with a story that jumps around. We are treated to interesting flashbacks as well as multiple views on the events of his life, the crash, and his life after.
The Bad: There are moments where this feels like a Lifetime movie due to the over-dramatization of events.
Final Word: What Sully lacks in frills it makes up for in acting and writing. You probably already know the story but you do not yet know the man himself. Sully allows us to see the real Chesley Sullenberger.
Starring Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Jamey Sheridan. Directed by Clint Eastwood.
Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some peril and brief strong language.