Sully movie review: The human side of Miracle on the Hudson

Sully movie review: In this Clint Eastwood film, Tom Hanks plays the all-American hero who has this ship cruising even through turbulent spots.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Written by Shalini Langer | New Delhi | Published:September 9, 2016 5:23 pm
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Sully movie cast: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney
Sully movie director: Clint Eastwood

Chelsey ‘Sully’ Sullenberger is an all-American hero, just the way Clint Eastwood likes them. An unassuming, quiet family man of unshakeable beliefs, and an accidental hero who “does the job” when called upon to do so.

It’s important to remember that when watching Sully, which brings to screen the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ of a US Airways pilot landing his plane with both its engines gone on the Hudson river, without any casualties, in January 2009 — a story that reverberated across the world. For, as much as it is about the feat, the film — again not surprisingly for Eastwood — focuses equally long on the human stories that drove it.

The biggest story of them is Sullenberger, and Tom Hanks with his well-meaning, deep-set sincerity has this ship cruising even through the turbulent spots where Eastwood is trying to put together a 90-minute story from a 208-second event.

It’s interesting how he plots the story too, working his way into the actual crash and what transpired before it well after the film has started. In the beginning, all we have is the aftermath of Sully having violent flashbacks about what could have happened had he not chosen to land on the river, and of him suffering doubts as an aviation board inquiry tries to determine that he decided right.

Eastwood overplays his hand a bit here, with the officials coming across as a bit too villainous when interrogating a pilot and his First Officer, Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), who have become overnight heroes. There is no doubt where the sympathies of the director who prizes simplicity — which also comes in the shape of Donald Trump — lie. At one point, when told by the investigators that engineers had determined that one of his engines may not have failed, unlike what he had claimed, Sully says, “Engineers are not pilots.” At another point, Sully emphasises that no, he didn’t go exactly by the rulebook, but based on his 42 years of experience, just “eyeballed” it.

Words right after Eastwood’s heart, one suspects.

Over time, the film arcs around to the day, the hour, the minutes, and finally, the seconds leading up to that once-in-a-lifetime event, in the process living the crash over and over again, to the film’s advantage, and from multiple points of view. The passengers are the most unfortunate angles, their stories dabbed with thick strokes of sentimentalism, which rings too plastic especially compared to the sincerity Hank is bringing in at the other end.

Eckhart is given the task of bringing in levity into the proceedings, which he does, in a story based on a book written by Sullenberg. Linney only gets to phone in from home as Sully’s worried wife.

In a film with an end as well known, the challenge always would have been to bring some newness. Eastwood’s pacing does the trick, but even so, in bits, Sully is a stretch and sometimes rather obvious in its heavy-handed intentions to honour a hero. Even one as celebrated.

The film’s title Sully itself is a hint. Sullenberg called his book Highest Duty: My Search For What Really Matters.