Review: ‘Sully,’ Tom Hanks And The Heroes Among Us

Heroism is not a calling. At least not for U.S. Airways Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. Made an instant hero for the “Miracle on the Hudson” (where he successfully made an emergency landing on the Hudson River shortly after takeoff), Sully would tell you he was just doing his job. Nothing more, nothing less. His unassuming nature and plainspoken demeanor would endear him to a nation.

Now, seven years after that miraculous landing, in which all 155 passengers and crew members survived, and on the eve of the 15th anniversary of 9/11, the arrival of Sully in theaters is a calming reminder that there are heroes among us, and they don’t always carry a gun or a badge. Just everyday people like you and me.

Clint Eastwood’s latest finds the 86-year-old filmmaker continuing to explore valor and intrepidity, and coping with stress after a traumatic event. Opening with a nightmare scenario of what could have happened to US Airways Flight 1549 on that January 15 morning, we empirically feel the emotional toll the event has had on Sullenberger. The story of Sully is not the landing itself but the aftermath: where Capt. Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) and his first officer, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), are investigated by a National Transportation Safety Board panel. Questions that begin with why and how come are levied by the NTSB behind closed doors, while on the outside Sully’s a media darling and friend to the Average Joe. Heck, he even gets an alcoholic beverage named after him. Grey Goose vodka with a splash of water.

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Looking for holes in the captain’s recounting of events as a means to find fault with his actions, this despite Sully’s 40 years of flying experience, for an event that took all of 208 seconds – from initial bird strikes hitting the plane to the landing – the NTSB panel are painted as the bad guys. The fishing expedition for answers stokes fires leading to an outcome that isn’t as much inevitable but still surprising. (All that’s missing is Al Pacino exclaiming hoo-ah! but that’s a different movie.)

Eastwood may be a Tinseltown legend – the last of the old guard and an everlasting icon, be it as The Man with No Name or “Dirty” Harry Callahan – but he’s not much for nuance when it comes to telling stories. At 95 minutes in length, Sully‘s run time is on the short side, and yet we get two versions of the emergency landing. The scene deconstruction is quite a sight, yet beyond their occurrences the narrative is lacking in cohesion and characters. We are offered a pair of awkward flashbacks to Sullenberger when he begins his career as a young aviator and when he successfully lands a military jet. Little is gleaned from his home life with wife Lorraine (Laura Linney) and daughters Kate and Kelly. Interactions are from phone conversations and while financial struggles are hinted, there are no resigning marital improprieties. The NTSB guys are cartoon bureaucrats, especially the leader of the panel played by Mike O’Malley.

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Despite narrative hiccups, Eastwood and Tom Hanks together make for cinematic magic. Both have workman-like attitudes they bring to a production so it’s no surprise that they can make a soft-spoken man like Sullenberger so compelling a character. For Hanks playing a man as congenial and respected as Sully is old hat. From navigating a space module back to Earth (Apollo 13) to playing an American defending a Soviet spy in a court of law (Bridge of Spies), Hanks has a knack for picking roles where competence is of utmost importance. He is drawn to playing characters who are seemingly ordinary but whose actions would prove otherwise.

Sully feels like the first movie in many years that is vintage Eastwood. Perhaps it is the subject or Tom Hanks once again as the everyman hero, or a combination of two. But more than Sullenberger it is the responsiveness to the water landing that should not go unnoticed. They may be quick cutaways in a film about an experienced captain, yet they show the quick-to-take-action intrepidness that is vastly disregarded. Yes, there are heroes among us. Just look around.

Score: 7/10

Director: Clint Eastwood
Writer: Todd Komarnicki (Based on the book “Highest Duty” written by Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow)
Cast: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Mike O’Malley, Laura Linney
Rating: PG-13 (for some peril and brief strong language)
Running Time: 95 minutes

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