Clint Eastwood has never been one of my most favorite directors, although I give props where props are due with films such as Unforgiven and Mystic River. He picks films that are definitely in his wheelhouse, subjects he can relate to, and is thrifty in his direction, almost to a fault. Eastwood makes lean, no-nonsense movies; he also lacks any vision or imagination and that has hurt many of his films in the past.
Sully falls a bit into this trap, but it is a true story about heroism that clearly speaks to Eastwood. Those moments when Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger must make some tough decisions as his airplane is failing him, and then making a near perfect landing on the Hudson River, saving everyone onboard — well, you’d be made of stone if it doesn’t get to you.
Tom Hanks is pretty amazing in the role, and every emotion imaginable plays on his face. Without his performance, Sully would sink because really, there isn’t a lot about what happened that lends itself to a whole movie. Besides the crash landing, there’s not much more. What the film tries to trump up is the aftermath, in which the National Transportation Safety Board questions Sully’s actions, on how he might have been able to land at nearby airports instead of risking a water landing. This is where Hanks saves it, as he plays this courageous man doubting what he did.
Overall, the conflict is minimal — there’s no substance abuse (like in Flight which handles the same topic far more compellingly), no family crisis, no secret agendas. Sully — and his experienced, highly trained flight crew (including his co-pilot played by Aaron Eckhart) — just did their jobs. Calmly and as efficiently as humanly possible. Plus, we know how it all turns out: Sully remained the hero he should be. So, a whole movie? Probably not necessary, but Sully still manages to eke out some tears when it counts.
Listen to more of my thoughts on Sully along with When the Bough Breaks, in the ScreenPicks podcast below.