SULLY: MIRACLE ON THE HUDSON (Warner Bros.)
Dir. Clint Eastwood, Script. Todd Komarnicki
Cast: Tom Hanks
Plot: Despite saving over a hundred lives and being declared a national hero, airline pilot Chesley Sullenberger (Hanks) faces scrutiny over his actions.
Sully is the movie that just would be directed by Clint Eastwood, and it is. For many who didn’t catch the controversial and wildly successful American Sniper a couple of years ago, this is a second opportunity, as the parallels between the two aren’t just present, but aggressive. It’s another entry in what seems to be Eastwood (the white, Republican man’s favourite filmmaker)’s ‘Great American Heroes’ series; take quiet, patriotic man who did great deeds and while experiencing hardships triumphed, and the stars and stripes wave in the background like your racist uncle randomly does in the wedding photos. And just like American Sniper, Sully is a compact, very well-edited and workmanlike drama that gets the job done without too many frills, cornering on an absolutely terrific lead performance (as American Sniper had with Bradley Cooper’s impactful turn) from the ever-reliable Tom Hanks, who apparently decided Forrest Gump hadn’t given him enough of a right-wing fix. It shouldn’t draw quite as much controversy as Eastwood’s previous film either, as the demonising of the National Transportation Safety Board and that of Iraqi twelve year olds is really incomparable. Also, with awards season kicking off, Sully looks like it could be in the thick of things come February: while I don’t think its quite good enough to merit a Best Picture nom, movies like this have a track record of doing very well with the predominantly white and old voting membership of the Academy.
Eastwood’s direction is expectedly efficient, and Sully is a much shorter movie than you may have bargained on – mainly because there’s not a ton of story here. Sully is about the aftermath of heroism, when a person becomes glorified and vilified all at once, their face and name everywhere, and Eastwood portrays both sides of this with candour. He also treats his movie like a medieval peasant being tortured by rack: because most of Sully‘s story has already happened as we arrive, the movie stretches to 96 minutes by sheer force of will, protracting scenes out and taking multiple looks at the incident that inspired the film, that being the water landing on the Hudson River back in 2009. However, while events can be repetitive from time to time, the plot is really ancilliary to Sully himself, a well-defined, stiff-jawed man which Todd Komarnicki’s script depicts with great dignity, and that you constantly want to see more of. Also, because its the manifestation of old-world, real men don’t cry masculinity behind the camera, Sully is remarkably straight faced, with so little emotion allowed a single whimper feels like Gerard Butler has just walked on set pretending to be an Egyptian God. While Sully does let the taps flow on very brief moments, the entire thing is underplayed to the point where it approaches parody: take the plane crash, where the 155 passengers aren’t traumatised as they really wouldn’t be derided for, but brace calmly, as if emitting some kind of collective star-spangled aura as they potentially ride into the jaws of death. And then there’s the air traffic controller who loses contact with the flight – he takes the ultimate action in Eastwood’s universe and goes to the staff canteen to reflect on the innocent civilians he thinks he’s complicit in killing.
So, the only thing Sully is really missing is a bald eagle screaming about fourscore on top of Mount Rushmore listening to Bruce fucking Springsteen – but the greatest bearer of this super-American spirit is Sully himself, who jokes aside is a heroic man that Eastwood depicts as he deserves to be depicted. While, like me, you can take shots at how resolute the entire cast of the film seems to be, its the little details that make Sully a hero you can completely invest in. He’s a calm, icy-veined pilot with great experience, and when things start to run awry (both of the plane’s engines are rendered inoperable by an unfortunate flock of birds, who I assume took being sliced and diced by propeller like Kevin Costner took that tornado in Man Of Steel) he and his co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles (Aaron Eckhart, providing Tom Selleck an answer on who stole his moustache) stay on top of the situation, firm in their actions. The script, while extremely padded out, allows for a great deal of time with Sully and Skiles, who have a quiet friendship and mutual respect for one another, and Eckhart’s quiet, yet often wise-cracking turn provides levity to proceedings. There’s also good time with Sully’s family matters, with Laura Linney doing a good job despite not having too much to do despite call Sully a hero (the director is a well-known Trump supporter, let’s take what we can get), but their phone conversations (despite their often inadvertently hilarious abrupt endings) probably give us the most candid look at Sully’s character that we get in the movie.
And the star, make no mistake, is Tom Hanks: the wise, loveable man of the movies, the man who can do no wrong. Hanks’s performance is one of extreme skill and pathos. Without Hanks, and I cannot stress this enough, Sully would have been a heck of a grind; luckily for us, Hanks is utterly superb in this movie. Once again, the little details are what makes this performance a shoe-in for awards nominations this year (although he was surprisingly snubbed at the Golden Globe noms yesterday), and that’s not just because he’s in an Eastwood (who the Academy utterly adore, and gave American Sniper a Best Picture nomination from out of the blue) film either. Hanks stays quiet, not talking unless he really has to, instead letting us into Sully’s psyche, giving us a great deal of depth and yet not opening the box of chocolates too far, hinting at a great deal more; Hanks shows in full effect Sully’s angels as well as his psychological demons. Hanks is especially touching in his conversations with Linney over the phone, and his slightly tearful response to being told that every single crew member and passenger on his flight had not been cast away is truly worth the price of admission alone. Even in a career as extraordinary and as full of pun opportunities as Hanks’s, this is a big (okay I’ll stop now) performance that should stand as a highlight in an incredibly long reel of them.
Hanks not only makes you humbled by Sully’s remarkable heroism, he also accentuates how shockingly he was treated by the safety committees who investigated and at times seemingly looked for a reason to blame Sully for the incident, in what is the narrative of the movie. The plot doesn’t feel massively important though, and the depiction of the NTSB as really being out to get Sully feels quite narrow, especially in comparison to the all-sides look we get at the incident (the multiple viewings superbly laced into the movie by editor Blu Murray). Sully also doesn’t feel very structured, kind of just moving on by until such time as Hanks and Eckhart learn their fates in an incredibly long scene (which just about gets Sully to feature length) in which they see simulations conducted of their flight in order to ascertain if their actions were correct – we see every simulation (and there are a number of them) in near-totality, and despite the pilots conducting them saying ‘birds’ in a manner so emotionless it can’t not provoke my especially odd funny bone to react, it really does bring Sully‘s pace to a flat halt, along with a few other moments that feel slightly too slow. But Sully feels resolute and staunch, a quite refreshingly understated depiction of heroism that Eastwood is making a lot of quality (and in the wake of Sully‘s strong box office numbers, money as well), a movie that feels so unapologetically patriotic that, while a complete affront to the rest of the world, its hard not to respect. So definitely give Sully a look: after its done you’ll want to dip your French fries in ranch dressing, grill a T-bone with your boys on your Chevy tailgate, and pick up an AR-15 from the corner shop.
BEST WATCHED: In America – if you can’t afford the flight, worth a look regardless. Also, don’t watch on a flight.