A lot can happen in 208 seconds. And this is how long it took Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger (Tom Hanks), to successfully land his US Airways flight 1549 on New York’s Hudson River, after losing both engines to multiple bird strikes just after take-off, and saving all 155 passengers and crew on board.
Interestingly, Sully is being marketed as the feel-good movie of the year and while the through line is rightly one of celebration, Clint Eastwood, directing in his usual minimalist style, chooses to focus the majority of the film on events after the landing, where it is clear that Sully is feeling pretty far from good.
Eastwood sets his stall out early, and in the opening scenes we see Sully racked with PTSD infused nightmares, unsuccessfully trying to avoid the media spotlight and also having to give evidence to an air crash investigation board. Hanks is simply perfect casting as Sully, bringing his usual everyman sensibilities and plays the reluctant hero like only Hanks can, though this time with a shock of white hair and a 1000-yard stare.
Aaron Eckhart also impresses as First Officer Jeff Skiles, bringing both the moustache of the year and also the voice of reason and injustice, especially during the later stages of the investigation. The relationship between the two feels respectful and professional, though not overly close and the few moments when it is just the two of them alone feel deliberately awkward, seemingly reflective of two individuals joined together and thrust unwittingly into the public eye.
There is little exploration of Sully out of the pilot’s chair and the few brief scenes of Laura Linney as Sully’s wife are problematic. Her scenes are slight, offer no real insights into their relationship and generally just confuse the narrative, without any real redemption. In many ways the film would have been stronger without them and the focus kept squarely on the events and investigation.
And the investigation is where the real drama lies. While any dramatization of real events always needs to take a level of poetic licence, especially as an accurate portrayal of a National Transportation Safety Board investigation will never be entirely cinematic, this is where the film loses its way somewhat. Things just don’t feel right, and while compelling to start with, the proceedings soon descend into farce, and in places are simply preposterous. It is difficult to take this section seriously, but at the same time it is hard to argue that it is not entertaining, though we suspect not particularly accurate.
Eastwood also uses the investigation to visualise the landing through a series of flashbacks. The landing is repeated on a number of occasions, each teasing out a little bit more detail or showing a different perspective. This is a mixed bag, with the effects feeling underdone and at times looking something akin to an episode of Air Crash Investigations.
However, Eastwood does succeed in raising the tension and considering that the passengers had very little warning of what was happening, when the tension arrives it is immediate and intense. I for one have not been able to get the repeated chants of the flight attendants out of my mind and I suspect these will come rushing back the next time I switch my phone to flight mode.
At its heart, Sully is a celebration of professionalism and the art of being good at your job. At times it is a dramatic and engaging telling of the heroic efforts of those fateful 208 seconds and the events which followed, though in others it struggles to define the type of film it really wants to be.
Importantly though it is a rare true life story with a genuinely happy ending, which considering ongoing world event serves to be rightly celebrated and no doubt applauded at the end of screenings.
Review by Will Malone
- Director –Clint Eastwood
- Starring – Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney
- Writer – Todd Komarnicki (screenplay), Chesley Sullenberger (book)
- Year – 2016
- Running Time – 96 mins
If you liked this, then try Nocturnal Animals.