The humble workmanlike nature of pilot Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger who flew the Miracle on the Hudson plane into the Hudson River in Jan 2009 sets the tone for Clint Eastwood’s no frills dissection of the events following the famed event. There’s no doubt this is a film about a hero, but Eastwood’s emotionally-detached approach plays against heighten state of action which belies other recent conservative-value hero films of late ('Deepwater Horizon', 'Captain Phillips', 'Lone Survivor', or even his own 'American Sniper'). 'Sully' is the best of these pictures.
Sully (2016) dir. Clint Eastwood
Starring: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Mike O’Malley, Anna Gunn
By Alan Bacchus
Years down the road after Mr. Eastwood has either passed on, or quit making movies (which is unlikely to ever happen), we might just look back on Sully as the quintessential Clint Eastwood movie. Sure Unforgiven, admirably contextualizes Clint’s history with the western genre, and sure he won another Oscar for the triumphant-then-tragic boxing story Million Dollar Baby, but arguably no other picture better captures the conservative politics of the famed director, the calm simplicity of Eastwood’s filmmaking method, and the introspective nature of the typical Eastwood hero wound up in a slick Hollywood package.
Arguably if this picture were made 25 years ago Clint Eastwood would have played Sully Sullenberger. Instead he casts the only person who could match his own tempered steel-eyed qualities of American conservatism, Tom Hanks. We first see Hanks in a sequence piloting his plane through Manhattan crashing it into the buildings in a ball of fire. Of course it’s a dream, signifying what could have happened to the US Airways plane if anyone else had piloted the aircraft that day, or, as we would learn later in the film, if he followed the instruction of the plane’s computer systems.
As scripted by Todd Komarnicki, the film takes a non-linear approach the events, immediately drawing us away from the drama of the actual flight. As reported by the media everyone in the world sees Sully as a hero (although humbly refused), with the exception of the airline and its insurance company. Eastwood spends most of his time after the landing, procedurally depicting the investigation of the incident and eventually attempting to twist Sully’s heroism around to recklessness and bad judgement. Sully learns about the computer’s simulations could have seen the plane landing safely at the nearby LaGuardia or Teterboro airports. Sully and his co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles (Eckhart) can only use gut instinct and Sully’s decades of experience to explain their reasons for landing in Hudson. Outwardly Sully stands by his gut but inwardly his self-doubt painfully eats away at his soul.
At stake is Sully’s career, as well as an awkwardly shoehorned website business venture which is threatened by the proceedings. But its Sully’s reputation and love of flying evocatively expressed through effectively-incorporated flashbacks which lands with us hardest.
Eastwood approach is clinical purposefully avoiding melodrama and anything resembling false drama or creative license. I don’t know if everything in the movie happened exactly as Eastwood portrays it, but we believe it does. Eastwood ends the picture with a ‘trial’ of sorts. It’s a hearing wherein the battle between the human factor and the computer factor is fought, but it’s essentially dramatized like a legal trial. Again Eastwood admirably avoids the milquetoast qualities of courtroom drama and quietly validates and vindicates Sully as satisfyingly triumphant as any other hero picture.