Clint Eastwood’s latest take on real life drama casts America’s favourite actor Tom Hanks as real life hero, Chesley Sullenberger; who performed an emergency landing of an airline onto the Hudson river in 2009, saving all 155 souls on board. Truly an inspiring story of human ability and courage, yet somehow manages to fall flat dramatically when committed to film. There is potential for a good movie in there but it is not helped by the format. The movie’s good moments were so sporadic and detached from the rhythm of the plot that all they did was serve to expose the lacklustre structure of the movie. The film jumps about like an episode of LOST, it must frequently re grab the audience’s attention by throwing out a dream sequence in which Sully imagines a plane crash to distract from the drab nondrama of the post Hudson landing world.
The opposition of the film comes from Sully facing investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), who wish to discover whether human error was involved in the landing. The film uses nonstop close-ups of Tom Hanks’ sullen face to trick viewers into believing that Sully could have made a mistake, but throughout the entire film we are constantly told that Sully is a great man, a model professional, a true hero. It is never in any doubt that Sully was in the right yet Eastwood attempts to squeeze as much drama as possible out of this nonstarter of a conflict; and it remains the only conflict in the movie other than Airplanes vs birds.
The point that resonates with me most is that Sully appears to be a film that is struggling for content to pad the already short viewing time. Excuses must be found to redo the same scene multiple times, usually by just sticking a pointless scene in between them. There are two flashbacks that were visited needlessly and both served the same purpose, to show us that Sully is a pilot. Something which the movie poster, the first scene, Tom Hanks’ jacket, the multiple people that call him captain, the news media and the fact that we see him piloting a plane already tell us. They are needlessly padding the film to give justification to scenes wherein Sully walks around feeling sad and to trick audiences into thinking something is happening.
The emotional crux of the film is of course the showing of the emergency landing and the rescuing of the 155 passengers and crew. There is a moment after the main action sequence in which passengers are waiting on the wing of the plane as the coast guard come to pick them up. The camera cuts to a reporter stating that the Hudson is so cold that “the passengers have literally minutes to live” to inject some tension into a scene which is not tense as the film has repeatedly told us that everyone survived.
Sully ham-handedly delivers a diatribe at the end of the movie about how it was everyone that day who the hero, about how the co-pilot, stewardesses, coastguard etc all pulled together to fight for everyone else. A nice message, a true message, but one that was so poorly developed through the previous hour and a half that the message does not feel earned. I am reminded of a much better film, United 93, which had this message and delivered it through casting a wide net over it’s characters, giving them all a sense of real humanity and honesty. Whereas Sully dedicates approximately two lines of dialogue each to the passengers of the plane that it attempts to trick its audience into empathising with.
Overall the film comes across as too drab, Tom Hanks is without any of his usual charisma and the only comic relief in the film comes from Aaron Eckhart’s Jeff Skiles, who makes, by my count, three jokes in the entire film. Now I’m not saying that the film needs to be funny but it fails to be dramatic by telling us that everyone survives and then attempting to make us fear for passenger’s lives an hour in. That is not how tension works.
On the whole the movie appears to be conjuring a dramatic story where there was none. Most conflict comes from Sully’s internal struggles and the bureaucrats he faces who are made into moronic strawmen. There is not much in the way of stakes in this story which tells us how it ends at the very beginning.
Entertainment is minimal but the movie has a simple enough plot and moral code that anyone could follow. Dont go out of your way to watch it, but it is generally fine.
Watch United 93 instead.