The trailers for Sully hinted potential, but still, one could only expect lackluster given the hands behind it. The once great Clint Eastwood has struggled to provide anything of merit these past few years (hell, this entire decade), with Jersey Boys being an utter disgrace and American Sniper being too politically one-sided for its own good. But here we find one of the shortest films of Eastwood’s career, and it’s also his best and first truly good film of the decade; one that surprisingly takes its time and is only bogged down by a couple issues that you pretty much forget about by the time it’s over. It’s kind of a miracle on its own.
The story, as you probably know, concerns Hanks’ Captain Sullenberger, an airlines pilot who is faced with, well, the worst decision ever when his aircraft hits a flock of birds after takeoff causing both engines to fail. Of course, as we know from the headlines all those years ago, Sully and co-pilot Jeff Skiles (here played by Aaron Eckhart) worked together to land the plane in the Hudson River, saving the lives of everyone on board.
It’s a miraculous story, but I was wondering just how a film would be made from the subject. I was in high-school at the time of this and don’t really remember that much of the story, so I had no idea that an investigation was under way about why Sully didn’t take the plane back to the airport and I didn’t know that his career was on the line. I just assumed he was a hero who saved everyone and that was the end.
Well, that is what happened, but the laws of the land played a huge effect in the actual story and Eastwood’s direction here brings them to the screen in not just intriguing fashion but also in modest fashion. I think this movie is like Pete’s Dragon in that they both feel as big as their subject matter and just as sincere. Not a single shot of Sully feels insincere or made for a paycheck. It feels like Eastwood took a look at his past few movies and said, “Let’s bring it down a notch and tell a human story,” and a human story he told.
Sully is a human movie, and not much more, which isn’t a criticism. It’s a life-affirming movie, probably the most heartfelt and emotionally impactful thing Eastwood has made since Million Dollar Baby back in 2004. When we finally get to the landing scene, it’s almost as if Eastwood tapped into his early 2000s self and gave it his all. It’s a riveting sequence, one that makes the landing scene in Flight look like child’s play. The tension in the air is almost unbearable as Sully realizes what has happened and begins to brainstorm ways to get his plane to safety, matched with Skiles’ attempts to find a solution and the stewardesses’ yelling, “BRACE BRACE BRACE.” It’s an enthralling sequence, and it’s one of the most intense sequences I’ve seen in any movie in 2016.
But I refuse to give all the credit to Eastwood. He is working with Tom Hanks here, and I have trouble believing this movie would have been as good with any other actor. Hanks isn’t begging for an Oscar here, but I bet he’ll get a nomination. He doesn’t have any standout moments like his final scene in Captain Phillips , but it’s a consistently nuanced performance that feels just as sincere and modest as the film and titular, real-life hero himself.
All in all, Sully is a rewarding cinematic experience that isn’t any more than it needs to be. It’s got the CGI and the plane crashes (a few offputting dream sequences and flashbacks are unwelcome and could have been cut), but the movie always comes back to Hanks’ performance and I know this gets said a lot, but I think it’s one of the best performances of his career. He truly is a masterclass at his craft. So yeah. So see Sully .
(P.S. Jimmy Olson from Superman Returns is in this movie so that’s an automatic half-star right there.)
(P.S.S. There is a real, breathing, crying baby in this movie, and I am confident Eastwood is giving the haters of American Sniperthe finger, which makes him a legend in my book.)