When I heard they made a movie about “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who heroically landed a downed commercial jetliner in the Hudson River, saving everyone onboard, I wondered how you would make a whole movie about that. Well, it turns out the story of Sully is a little more complicated than what I knew.
And I really mean a little more complicated. Not that much more complicated. He landed the plane, and then they said you know what, you might’ve done the wrong thing according some tests we did, and he said well this is why those tests are wrong, and after a while they said yeah you’re right, sorry about that Sully. The end.
So it’s weirdly uneventful for a movie about a famous airline disaster. But as a gentle character drama it’s not bad, the kind of thing that Clint Eastwood can make much more interesting than most directors could.
Clint’s not in it. Sully is played by Tom Hanks, a much more laid back continuation of his exploration of real-life-regular-working-schlub-captains-turned-celebrated-heroes in CAPTAIN PHILLIPS. Like Phillips he’s just doing his job when something bad happens and he responds the best way he knows how. But since it’s about the specific skill of flying and landing a plan, he’s really more like Clint’s character Gus in TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE – the old timer who knows how to do it by FEEL better than all these fancy computers and what nots that the young guys have with the math and the aeronautical expertry and everything.
Laura Linney, who played Clint’s daughter in ABSOLUTE POWER, plays Sully’s wife. They have a weird relationship. She calls him “Sully,” for example. Sometimes she kinda seems like his assistant.
I think political criticisms of this one are probly fair. From what I understand, the actual Sully got them to change the names of the NTSB people because he felt it portrayed them as prosecuting him, when in fact they’re a fiercely unbiased group just trying to get to the bottom of what happened in order to improve safety in the future. In other words, the real Sully must be as decent and fair-minded as the movie character.
Portraying the NTSB kind of like bureaucrats in a DIRTY HARRY movie could do real damage to their reputation, part of the feedback loop of harming institutions to support a view that institutions are harmful. But if you can overlook that part it’s easy to relate to Clint’s depiction of somebody doing something great only to be picked apart and second-guessed for it. I always think of Jesse Jackson being called an egomaniac for negotiating a hostage release, Obama being demonized for getting millions of people health insurance, Superman being called a murderer for saving the entire human race from Zod. Nice try, assholes. Not good enough!
Sully in the movie is compelling for taking it pretty well. He stands up for his memory of what happened while also questioning himself. We see from his daydreams and nightmares that he’s not as calm on the inside as the outside. Like HEREAFTER, this is a quiet, intimate drama with some spectacularly realistic disaster scenes. The image of a jet flying between buildings in New York City brings up all kinds of fears beyond just plane crashes. And the scenes of average travelers faced with jumping into a freezing cold river puts details on the story that I hadn’t really thought about. This summer I jumped in a river for the first time since I was a teenager, and found a primal fear of suffocation I didn’t know was in there. That was just to hang out and drink beer, these people were fighting for life! But as we know from real life as well as DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE, the people of New York know how to come together for this shit, so the Coast Guard and police were there.
Eckhart is subtly great as the co-pilot who respects Sully as both a colleague and an elder. The look of offended surprise on his face when he first hears them question Sully’s choices says so much.
This is definitely not one of Clint’s top directorial works. It’s a small, simple little thing. It’s not a home run. But this late in a career hitting an occasional single ain’t bad.