By Jack Dignan
A shocking story of American heroism from director Clint Eastwood? That could be the description of a many number of films, and Eastwood's latest directorial effort, Sully, can be added to that list. Eastwood is a many of many talents, and I would consider myself quite the fan of his. Naturally, whenever a new film of his comes along, I get excited, as, for the most part, I like pretty much all of the films he's directed. I find enjoyment in them, and consider a lot of them to be rather underrated, especially his more recent movies such as Hereafter and Jersey Boys, neither of which got the best reviews. Heck, even American Sniper, despite being nominated for several Oscars, received some hate, and I really enjoyed that. So with that in mind, I was ready to thoroughly enjoy Sully. I was wrong.
Sully is based on the true story of Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger (Tom Hanks), the pilot of a plane that loses both its engines just moments after taking off. With no other options available, Sully is forced to land the plane down on the Hudson river, saving the lives of all 155 passengers on board, along with the help of his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart). The forced water landing, however, is but a small component of this movie, as the real story is of the investigation that takes place after. Led by Charles Porter (Mike O'Malley), the investigation is a look into whether or not landing on the Hudson river saved the passengers, or if there was still an opportunity for Sully to make it to the airport, therefore endangering the lives of all the passengers by not doing so.
The true story upon which this film is based on is extremely fascinating. As someone with limited knowledge of the events that unfolded, the true story behind it was a gripping and emotional one, and I really enjoyed hearing what happened. It gained my investment, intriguing me as to what really happened on the Hudson river that day. The story is told with respect and honesty, dramatising it to make for a better movie, but still keeping the facts intact. What happened back in 2009 is an important tale, and seeing it told properly is a rather pleasing thing.
Taking on the mantle of Sully is the always brilliant Tom Hanks, who, as expected, gives a stellar performance. There are few actors out there that are as brilliant as Hanks is. He's an actor who, no matter how mediocre or bad the film is, always manages to knock it out of the park, and he does so once again with this movie. His recent performances have been beyond brilliant, and Sully just slots right in. It's not as emotional as Captain Phillips, nor as fun loving as Saving Mr. Banks, but for what this film is trying to achieve, he does a great job.
I would even go so far as to say that he carries this movie, despite appearing alongside Aaron Eckhart, who I was also a big fan of in this film. Both armed with dangerous moustaches, the two are fantastic, even if Hanks steals every scene he's in. Oscar worthy? Maybe, but don't discredit Eckhart, either. While they are the two show stealers, that doesn't mean the supporting cast are bad. In fact, they're also rather brilliant, especially Laura Linney, who gives an emotionally grounded performance as Sully's wife, despite not spending any time on screen with him.
That's where this film starts to falter. Hanks and Linney share a great deal of phone conversations, and the whole time they're discussing when they can see each other, yet it never comes. It's just one of the many examples of when this film decides to recap the aspects of this story that would've made for a far more interesting movie. We're given the smaller, less important scenes, starting these sounds off with descriptions of what could've made for a more compelling story. Would an emotional, score-driven reunion of Hanks and Linney's characters have been a great way to end the film? Absolutely. Is the ending we get on the same level? Not at all. It's abrupt and forced and honestly did not feel like an ending in the slightest.
Without a doubt, my favourite scenes during this movie were the scenes that depicted the Hudson river landing. They weren't perfect, but they were the most entertaining of the lot. The problem lays in how the scene is edited. Rather than just shown for what it is, the sequence is split into multiple parts, showcasing different perspectives throughout the movie, and no, it's not as cool as it sounds. It takes away from the emotional impact of the whole thing, and even repeats a great deal of its footage. I believe the film cuts back to this landing about three or four times throughout, and when it gets to the final depiction, I had had enough. I'd seen it a few too many times to be interested.
It's not the only display of clumsy editing either, as the film goes full biopic from time to time, and there just isn't any need for it. There are flashes of a young Sully learning aviation, as well as getting himself into a little bit of trouble when in the air. The scenes, while looking cool, didn't add anything to the film, and in fact, they bogged the story down. It helped to make this 96 minute movie feel well over two hours. Whenever a flashback came on, and this includes the Hudson river landing, it slows the story down drastically. Sure, I loved the Hudson river scene, but Clint Eastwood chooses to show it at the worst times. It feels almost like a 70 minute movie that was given an extra twenty five minutes during post production.
Speaking of Eastwood, he doesn't seem to be on the top of his game when it comes to this movie. He tries, and I do love the fact that he's still churning out as many movies as he is, but his direction here feels like a slight step down from what we've seen of him in the past. The film feels rather cheap, and the budget for a film like this could've, and should've been higher. There are some scenes that just feel too much like they were filmed at a studio backlot, and when you're trying to be a super serious drama, it just felt distracting. The outdoors sets feel real, minus the awful CGI, and maybe that's because they were, but everything else really doesn't.
To sum up, Sully is led by terrific performances all throughout its cast, especially from Hanks, but unfortunately, it's a mixed bag of a movie. There's moments of greatness and the true story is extremely interesting, but the film is bogged down by disjointed editing, pointless flashbacks and extensive sequences of dull situations.
2 1/2 Stars