Release Date: Sept. 9, 2016
Running Time: 96 minutes
Capt. Chesley Burnett “Sully” Sullenberger is an American hero. No ifs, ands, or buts. The captain of the US Airways Flight 1549 saved the lives of 155 passengers and crew members with the swift and decisive action he took on the morning of Jan. 15, 2009, when he performed his “forced water landing” in Manhattan’s Hudson River. Unfortunately, it’s not enough for Sully director Clint Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki to recount the “Miracle on the Hudson” with the respect it deserves. Instead, Eastwood and Komarnicki inject doubt and cynicism into Sully by forcing Sullenberger to inexplicably justify his heroic deed. To be fair, Eastwood and Komarnicki are very much in the corner of Sullenberger, whom Tom Hanks portrays with equal amounts of trustworthiness, reliability and grace under fire. However, Sully is less concerned with reenacting the events that led to the downing of US Airways Flight 1549 than it is with pitting Sullenberger against a government boogeyman in the form of National Transportation Safety Board. Why? Eastwood clearly believes every hero needs a villain. So the NTSB investigators are positioned as the only people in the United States who question whether Sullenberger should have landed his Airbus A320-214 at LaGuardia Airport or Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. Sullenberger is guilty until proven innocent in the eyes of the investigators. Eastwood harbors such malice toward the investigators that he all but has them waterboard Sullenberger and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (who, as portrayed by a steadfast Aaron Eckhart, is solely defined by the orders he received from Sullenberger during those pivotal 208 seconds). Maybe some high-ranking government officials felt Sullenberger’s actions were irresponsible and were out to get him. In Sully, though, the investigators look like they are ready to strap the native Texan into Old Sparky and pull the lever. What is lost on Eastwood—and Sully as a whole—is that the NTSB would be derelict in its duty if it did not thoroughly investigate the accident, which was caused by a bird strike, or to examine the other options that may have been available to Sullenberger in his bid to safely land a plane with both engines out. Not surprisingly, a defensive NTSB has already called into question Sully’s depiction of its investigation, which suggests Eastwood and Komarnicki either fictionalized the intense backroom scrutiny of Sullenberger and Jeff Skiles for dramatic effect or to reflect the former’s post-accident state of mind at the time of the investigation. The idea of deconstructing an act of heroism is an intriguing one that could have been pulled off by a director who is invested in offering a psychological profile of the party responsible for saving so many lives. And there are times when Komarnicki wants to get deep inside Sullenberger’s head, to see how he was left traumatized by the accident in the short term. But Eastwood is too consumed with crafting a needless David vs. Goliath showdown that, ultimately, lacks the necessary drama and tension to warrant this approach. The same can be said for most of Sully, which Eastwood tells with the same flat, lifeless style as such recent misfires as J. Edgar and Jersey Boys. This extends to the reenactment of US Airways Flight 1549’s emergency water landing, which Eastwood returns to multiple times from different perspective in a failed attempt to lend Sully a Rashomon-like air of mystery and skepticism. (It’s also possible Eastwood takes this approach because he needs to pad a film that has no idea what to do with its protagonist after he achieves celebrity status for his brave endeavors. At 96 minutes,Sully has the shortest running time of an Eastwood-directed film since his 1973 western High Plains Drifter.) Instead, Eastwood’s reenactment is executed in such a relaxed and humdrum manner that not once captures the horror of the situation. Perhaps Eastwood’s intent is to reflect Sullenberger’s calm and collected demeanor in the face of death. That’s very well and good. But the end result is a potential disaster that feels about as terrifying as the pilot simulations that occur during the climatic confrontation between Sullenberger and the NTSB. Despite this, Sully reinforces through Hanks’ sterling performance that Sullenberger committed an uncommon act of heroism that will not be forgotten.
Aired: Sept. 8, 2016
Web site: http://www.sully-movie.com/