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I don’t fault Hollywood for feeling inclined to tell Chesley Sullenberger‘s story. Performing a water landing of an airbus with no lives lost is nothing short of a miracle. There are cinematic qualities the plane sequence offers for filmmakers, but there’s not much else to tell. Unfortunately, director Clint Eastwood’s Sullyfalls into this expected trap.
Usually I give a recap of the history behind a biographical movie, but the “Miracle on the Hudson” was 7 years ago. Anyone reading this probably remembers that incident as vividly as I do. Where the film Sully lives is mostly around the post-landing hearing conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board. This board’s duty is to establish whether a water landing was really a necessary risk or if Sully could’ve made it safely back to any of the nearby airports. In between the investigation and the landing sequence, we’re given all-too-brief flashbacks of Sully’s early life.
There are many positive takeaways from the movie. Eastwood knew how to effectively and realistically depict the water landing. I’d argue it was as good as the emergency landing in 2012’s Flight. You almost felt like Robert Zemeckis was behind the camera again capturing that sequence. The difference here is, unlike Flight, you already knew how the Hudson River landing pans out. However, even with the sequence being shown thrice, each instance you were absolutely at the edge of your seat, despite knowing the outcome.
Another brilliant aspect of this production is the casting. Every component involved in front of the camera is reliably magnificent. It’s no surprise Tom Hanks can carry this film and make us feel Chesley’s doubts and fears. More surprising is how much everyone else brought it. Aaron Eckhart portrays the 2nd lead, co-pilot Jeff Skiles, and conveys the same range of emotion Hanks does, albeit with less screen time. Deeper in the cast is Laura Linney as Lorraine, Sully’s wife, whose relationship deserved further exploration, but she still gave a more-than-serviceable performance. Mike O’Malley plays the head of the Transportation Safety board, and sufficiently fills the shoes of someone who swaps between antagonistic and admiring.
My criticisms lie more specifically in time management. This is one of Eastwood’s shortest ventures at 96 minutes. While the condensed length is appreciated, that’s probably as much as he could squeeze out of this story that revolves around a plane crash.
I also distinctly remember a news article that covered when Sully started captaining commercial flights again, so any moments of tension were automatically false. Yet Eastwood really tried to give us glimpses of differing perspectives when the crash was shown, many scenes at hearings, or brief flashbacks of Chesley’s past (of which more were needed). When I say “glimpses of differing perspectives,” I do mean glimpses. Instead of spending the entirety of the water landing inside an air traffic control tower or from the passengers’ point of view, we only see characters in each scenario briefly. Additionally, the flashbacks we received about Sully’s early life were probably a total of 8 minutes of the movie. A creative way to tell this story existed, but wasn’t pursued in the making of this film.
Unlike Flight, Sully‘s stakes were almost non-existent, yet the performances held strong. While my grievances are specific, these didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the movie overall. The water landing sequence is the primary scene to be remembered for years, and Tom Hanks will likely receive award attention. Despite this, Sully will ultimately be recalled as a routine affair in Eastwood’s inconsistent pantheon of movies.
Need a really, really brief yet comical synopsis of this review? Check out my 10 Second Review of Sully below!