One either has to be a genius or a crazy person to cook up a bare bone with a bunch of juicy vegetables and call it an Entrecôte Special but that’s what director Clint Eastwood has done with his new film, SULLY.
Billed as “the untold story” of the “Miracle on the Hudson”, the forced landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the river that separates New York from New Jersey, the film revisits those tense 208 seconds when Capt. Chesley Sullenberger III, or “Sully”, as everyone called him, made that fateful decision that thankfully resulted in no deaths. That’s right. No one died. A few lacerations and a couple cases of hypothermia, but all 155 passengers and crew lived to tell the tale… and they did. Sully wrote a book, as did quite a few of the passengers. A documentary was also made (“Miracle Landing on the Hudson”), which aired on the NatGeo channel in 2014. So what’s new to learn from SULLY?
Not much, it seems. Aside from recreating the plane’s takeoff, air strike, forced landing and swift rescue, which are all done very well, the film gives us a taste of Sully’s (Tom Hanks, A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING) backstory – learning how to fly crop dusters as a young man in Texas, being a jet fighter pilot a few years later and, in 2009, a happily married man with two teenage daughters who unwinds by going running – but all we really learn is that the real Sully is just your everyday, very serious and very professional, commercial pilot who knows his job inside and out. The film also sheds some light on the suits at the NTSB, the National Transport Safety Board, whose job it was to investigate the “crash” as they saw it. Sully and co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart, THE DARK NIGHT) are repeatedly questioned by the NTSB as the flight recorders are examined, computer and pilot simulations are run, and the plane’s engines are recovered from the water. It’s no secret that it all ends happily ever after with Sully remaining an American hero to this day.
To Eastwood’s credit, he created a thoroughly competent movie. Rather than showing us the flight from start to finish, he teases it out, first giving us a peak inside Sully’s brain in the days after the event as he wrestles with the possibility of what could have happened if he had tried to land the plane at one of the two nearby airports. Eastwood’s smartest decision though was casting Hanks, America’s most trusted actor, to play America’s most trusted pilot. No one else could have done the role as well.
Eckhart, sporting a healthy walrus moustache, does fine work as Sully’s loyal and equally professional second-in-command. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Laura Linney (MR. HOLMES), who plays Sully’s wife, Lorraine, though, to be fair, she wasn’t given a lot to work with. All we see of her is a number telephone conversations with Sully where she tries to lend her support to him in the only way that she can. It’s not a great acting stretch for her.
Perhaps intentionally, little effort was made to give us information about the passengers. We’re told about a group of three men who made it onto the flight just as the plane’s doors were closing, a mother travelling with a baby, and a woman travelling with her wheelchair-bound mother, but nothing more is known about them or any of the other 154 people (Sully excluded). At 96 minutes in length, this is a very economical film.
SULLY is a solidly good movie. I wasn’t wowed by it because it is so bare bones but it was entertaining enough. Eastwood shot it in IMAX so you may want to watch it that way. And be sure to stay for the credits because there are some scenes of the real Sully, Skiles, the passengers and crew.
Listen to the review online on Radio 4. (Click on the link. Select Part 2 and slide the time bar over to 44:00.)
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