Movies about recent events that use still-living people as their basis can be tricky, as its natural to try to celebrate their best qualities and not smear the name of anyone who’s still around to be upset. Sully, Clint Eastwood’s new film celebrating the Miracle on the Hudson and the pilot (Chelsey Sullenberger) who successfully ditched the passenger plane in the river, certainly paints a kind portrait of every person involved, from the crew of the jet to seemingly the entire city of New York. Its a hard movie to get upset about, but its also completely devoid of dramatic tension, and while it flirts with some thematically interesting bits on gaslighting and hero worship, it ultimately has no more insight and asks no more questions than the news coverage of the event already did.
The movie doesn’t open with the actual events of the miracle on the Hudson, and for a moment it seemed as if it would trust its audience enough to not bother re-enacting them. However, halfway through, the movie flashes back to the incident, showing it through the eyes of the air traffic controllers, the boats on the river, the passengers, and the crew, but there’s no revelation in any of this. Since the movie has already told us that everyone made it out safely, there’s no dramatic tension even for those who know nothing of the real story. It doesn’t provide insight into Sully’s character, as the first act and the mere casting of Tom Hanks already tells us that he’s capable, relatable, and good-hearted. Instead, the main event is rendered a pointless sideshow that distracts from the only interesting plot point in the movie: Sully’s self-doubt. A safety board investigation runs throughout the movie, doubting whether Sully had to ditch the plane or if a safe landing was possible. There’s no doubt that the board will eventually see things Sully’s way, but there is very briefly doubt that Sully believes in himself. There’s just not enough material in that to mine for drama without allowing for a bit of bite, or at least a less hagiographic tribute to Sully.
Even at 96 minutes, it quickly runs out of things to say, ending on the equivalent of a rimshot and an “oh you!”. As a reenaction, Sully is at least well filmed. Eastwood stages some striking shots during the flashbacks, particularly once the plane is afloat, and its evocations of 9/11 are certainly no accident. Hanks is warm and likable, but its the kind of role he could play in his sleep. Aaron Eckhart is a nice presence as first officer Jeff Skiles, whose relative lack of fame next to Sully gives Eckhart a bit more room to maneuver. He exudes a low-key charm, and puts up a strong claim for Mustache of the Year. That being said, the positivity of the movie is refreshing, celebrating the coming together of a city and unqualified triumph in the face of disaster. It’s unchallenging and often hackneyed, but surely watchable, and an effective-enough time capsule of one of the most dramatic near-misses in aviation history.
Dir. Clint Eastwood
Starring Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Anna Gunn, and Laura Linney
Rotten Tomatoes (83%)