“Sully” Movie Review


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     Real life stories can often be a tricky proposition for even the most talented filmmakers.  This is due to dramatization often being necessary to fill in the blanks where key aspects of a story occurred behind closed doors or the people involved may no longer be available due to the time that has passed since the event took place.  James Cameron dealt with this by writing a fictional love story for his Best Picture winning 1997 masterpiece "Titanic", as did Oliver Stone when he tackled the fill in the blanks nature of his 1991 classic thriller "JFK".  To a large extent, director Clint Eastwood is able to avoid the need for any reshaping of history in "Sully", the story of US Airways pilot Chesley Sullenberger and his miracle landing on the Hudson River in early 2009.  Most everyone who views the film, young or old, will likely remember the incident verbatim, considering the immense and well saturated news coverage the incident received internationally.

     To use an analogy from one of my favorite films, it seems after his stellar career has moved into that of a more mature trajectory, Tom Hanks has become the Winston Wolf of actors in that he now seems to choose the role of strikingly calm and efficient problem solvers with regularity.  His Sully, a man who faced incredible pressure and odds with the lives of 155 passengers and crew directly in his hands, accomplishes the task at hand with the same general intensity of myself as I write this review.  That is to say, there wasn't a noticeable change in his demeanor from the time the plane takes off, through the plane suffering a bird strike that disabled both engines, and ultimately leading to the river landing.  We've watched Hanks do this several times before in such notable films as "Apollo 13" and the recent "Captain Phillips", and the same calm and cool in the face of immediate danger is on full display yet again.

     As Hanks exudes the characteristics of a man who possesses over 40 years of flying experience, Eastwood is no slouch in yet again positioning himself as a master filmmaker, utilizing both technology and his outstanding cast to ensure the film packs the right amount of emotional punch.  Before recreating the landing, the 86 year old filmmaker first establishes the impact the situation is having on all involved.  The airline has unleashed a full fledged investigation that implies Sully could've made it to a landing at a nearby airport, causing both himself and those around him to imply the possibility he may have made the wrong decision.  As all of that unfolds, Sully suffers from a series of nightmares that replay the flight with a significantly different and horrific outcome, conjuring up a terrible event in human history when you consider where this story takes place.

     Throughout the narrative, Eastwood places us in the interview rooms where an investigative panel from the National Transportation Safety Board, led by outstanding performances from Mike O'Malley ("Concussion") and "Breaking Bad" alum Anna Gunn, projects the appearance of a group of yes people told what they will do from high above as the insurance companies and lawyers spar over the endless litigation that likely resulted from the incident.  Frustration mounts on both sides, as the investigators imply Sully's decision making skills have eroded, as if he's now a relic amongst the supposedly smarter new breed of airline executives.  His younger co-pilot, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), stands firm at his side, both in awe of the immense accomplishment, but also as a peer who was there and knows exactly what they were up against with a mere 208 seconds to react.

     As films involving incidents with planes go, Eastwood's depiction of the landing in all its CGI splendor benefits greatly from the humanizing emotion he injects into every character involved both on and off the plane.  We see the Air Traffic Controller's handling of the incident from a far and the lengths he is willing to go in order to ensure he doesn't lose the plane.  In many ways, we feel his level of responsibility matches that of Sully's and the resulting scenario comes across as a touching portrayal.  But nothing gave me goosebumps like the flight attendants did when they put into motion the procedures they had to that point likely only studied and read about as Sully announces stoically over the intercom system "Brace for impact".  Those scenes stayed with me well beyond the theater and became even more impactful when the gravity of the situation they faced really sunk in.

     "Sully" is a sure fire Oscar contender.  Led by Hanks, the cast delivers top shelf performances across the board and the script, written by Todd Komarnicki and Jeffrey Zaslow (based on Sully's book "Highest Duty") ensures every line of dialogue accomplishes the task of communicating the different personalities involved.  And Eastwood, who maintains a tone throughout that is becoming of his lead, has created a suspenseful and meaningful film about a story we are already more than familiar with.  But that's what the masters do.   They make us believe what we are watching matters.  GRADE: A