On January 15, 2009, experienced pilot and aviation safety expert Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger saved the lives of all 155 people aboard US Airways Flight 1549, including his own, with only 208 seconds to turn what could have been a major disaster into the miracle the world saw. A collision with geese had disabled both engines, leaving Sully and first officer Jeffrey Skiles with no time for a wrong decision; flying back to LaGuardia was out of the question, so in a stunning display of quick thinking and calm leadership, Sully pulled off a difficult water landing in New York’s Hudson River without a single casualty and almost no injuries.
Sully is, without question, a hero, and has been recognized as such by the government, the press and the public at large. Yet, in the film adaptation of Sully’s memoir, director Clint Eastwood felt it necessary to artificially contort the National Transportation Safety Board into a cartoonish villain that is out to deflate the man’s accomplishments while he’s being lionized in the press. It’s a strange, distracting decision by the filmmakers to force conflict that seems wholly concocted on our hero when his bravery speaks for itself, especially when the film has so many other qualities going for it.
PG-13, 91 minutes
Violet Crown Cinema and Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
Sully begins with our captain (Tom Hanks) having nightmares of what might have been, had his maneuver failed—the image of a passenger plane crashing directly into New York City and causing untold devastation. As he snaps awake in his hotel room, he realizes it was all in his head, but the possibility is clearly taking its toll. Making matters worse is the jarring back-and-forth between facing the adoring public and battling for his integrity at the hostile inquiry by the NTSB; Sully does not feel like a hero, but he is positive all of his decisions were the right ones.
How does a humble man fight for his pride? How does a cool, collected professional handle trauma? These are the questions Sully confronts when Eastwood has a clear sense of the film’s purpose, and the results are often quite moving. The best parts of Sully are when it revisits the flight from a variety of perspectives, understanding how this event appeared from different points of view from the pilots, the flight attendants, the passengers, air traffic control, people in office buildings watching the plane descend into the river and the team that rescued the passengers from the water.
Sully believed the so-called miracle was a team effort, and the film named after him shares that view. Filmed for IMAX, the reenactments of those fateful 208 seconds are incredibly gripping both visually and dramatically, capturing the sights and sounds of air travel and how terrifying it must be to realize one’s powerlessness if anything goes wrong.
Since at least 1993’s Unforgiven, Eastwood’s greatest strength has been in telling the stories of men who can never quite escape the past. Like Eastwood’s last film, American Sniper, Sully shines when it examines the lingering effects of extraordinary moments of heightened tension after the immediate danger has passed. Hanks is excellent in the role, and Aaron Eckhart as the energetic Skiles provides a fine foil for Sully’s humility. Like American Sniper, however, it’s clear which elements of the story have Eastwood’s full attention and which ones are perfunctory and half-baked; both films tell the story of compelling men trapped in a film with no sense of direction after their defining moments have been portrayed, who are married to women played by award- winning actresses who mainly cry over the phone about how scared and/or proud they are of their heroic husbands.
Sully is not a great film, but with its good intentions and optimistic view of the heroism that lives inside everyday people, its confusing decision to make an enemy of the NTSB doing precisely the job it ought to, and use its investigation as a framing device, is worth tolerating.
Contact Kristofer Jenson at email@example.com.
PLAYING THIS WEEK
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213
Bad Moms, The Disappointments Room, Don’t Breathe, Equity, Florence Foster Jenkins, Kubo and the Two Strings, Mechanic: Resurrection, Morgan, Pete’s Dragon, Sausage Party, The Secret Life of Pets, Star Trek Beyond, Suicide Squad, War Dogs, When the Bough Breaks, The Wild Life
Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000
Don’t Breathe, Don’t Think Twice, Florence Foster Jenkins, Hell or High Water, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, The Innocents, Kubo and the Two Strings, The Light Between Oceans, Microbe & Gasoline, Sausage Party, Southside With You