Sully (aka Sully: Miracle on the Hudson) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Tom Hanks is no stranger to biopics of men that are courageous (Captain Phillips), smart (Charlie Wilson’s War) or snide (Saving Mr. Banks). But his role as Captain Chesley Sullenberger may be one of his best roles, as a man that was rather humble for landing a plane on the Hudson. Hanks looks the part and plays it well, from his quiet nature during the NTSB hearings to his by-the-book method of making the tough call in the pilot’s seat.
But how much of a story is there to tell about Sully? He’s a humble man that doesn’t seem to have any major flaws and made the right choice at the right time to save lives. There are a few nightmares he has about the experience, terrified at his own imagination for what would happen if the plane did crash in New York City. Who wouldn’t after such an experience? The most interesting aspect of Sully is how he carries himself during all the congratulations and accusations, never bathing in praise or frothing with passion. He’s a surprisingly normal pilot that just did his job and did it very well.
Director Clint Eastwood makes a smart move in directing this picture with a non-linear structure. The first act follows the initial investigation and media circus, the second the actual landing of the plane and the third a courtroom drama of the incident. I think Eastwood realizes that Sully himself is not that interesting of a character to hold the straight story. Rather than pose the picture as Robert Zemeckis’ Flight, which blew its wad on the special effects of the plane landing in the first act, Eastwood reserves the middle of his picture for the money shot of Sully’s water landing. When the movie arrives at this segment, it never pulls away from the entire experience of the landing and rescue that lasted less than an hour.
During the landing sequence, however, the movie spends too much time establishing mini-arcs of the passengers on the plane. But in trying to stir up some extra drama with the people on the plane, it’s so miniscule and ineffective. Sure, I cared that these characters made it out of this landing alive, but only as much I’d want to see any stranger survive such an event. Eastwood also throws in a few mini-arcs for the coast guard and rescuers in hopes that you’ll feel more for them as well. This is extra baggage that the movie doesn’t need as there is plenty of tension and interest in how Sully follows procedure, land the plane in the water and make sure everybody makes it safely out of a sinking vehicle in cold climate. The entire movie could have been just about the landing the way Eastwood sets up and finishes so many characters in just one act.
Another aspect of these based-on-true-story movies that is wearing thin on me are the after credit sequences calling back to the real event. For most films, some additional text of what followed the events would be placed before the credits and that would be enough to get one interested in learning more. The trend now is to follow that with various photos. Then show footage of the actual plane. Then show footage of the real-life passengers and Sully introducing themselves. When did the DVD special features turn on during the end of the movie? It’s not that it seems out of place or inappropriate, but there’s enough material presented here as though it were supplements from a documentary. Perhaps this was intended as a preview to a documentary?
While Sully isn’t one of Eastwood’s best, it does maintain his streak of crafting movies around modern heroes. He builds them up as honest and human characters, but also crafts their stories to be real crowd-pleasers. In this sense, Sully is given perhaps the most fitting of theatrical portrayals without all the usual bells and whistles. He has no need for such extravagance as a simple pilot who made a not-so-simple landing.