‘Sully’ both skids and soars

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Unless you were living under a rock in January 2009, you saw US Airways Flight 1549 sitting in the Hudson River. This was the result of a flock of birds, failed engines, and the skill of Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. His quick thinking saved all 155 lives aboard.

Clint Eastwood’s retelling, simply titled ‘Sully,’ focuses mainly on the man in charge and stumbles when it loses sight of him.

In the cockpit, Sully (Tom Hanks) and First Officer Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) begin the movie by going through their pre-flight checklist and taking off. Not long into the flight, the birds hit, disabling both engines and sending the plane straight into the heart of New York City with a fiery explosion.

Awoken from this nightmare with him, we immediately understand Sully’s insecurities as much as we possibly can. Although I’m not usually a fan of dream sequences, this one works because it sets a tone of cynicism and fear which Sully must overcome in the aftermath of the event.

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Sully and Skiles are grilled by a team from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), who claim it was possible for the plane to have safely returned to either LaGuardia or Teterboro Airport. If the NTSB is proven correct, the two pilots could lose their jobs and their retirement funds. On top of that, the media attention feels relentless to these otherwise average people, including Laura Linney as Sully’s wife, Lorraine.

Interspersed into the investigation are snippets of the incident from multiple perspectives. We see the consequences failure could bring to bear on the air traffic controllers, the uncertainty of the passengers, and finally the actions of the pilots. All of these sequences are tense, but I couldn’t help feeling like Eastwood was holding something back.

For the majority of these flight scenes, there is no musical score – a fitting choice for a humble hero, but not an incredibly cinematic one. Most of the time, we critics complain about music manipulating the audience’s emotions. But here, I would have enjoyed being manipulated just a bit. When we already know the ending, it’s not that entertaining to simply give us the facts and nothing more. Spice it up, Clint!

That’s not to say the movie is ever boring. Far from it – Hanks could make the phone book fascinating and the film often feels like more than the sum of its parts due to the aura surrounding the event.

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But when we see a passenger swimming away from the downed plane because he thinks he won’t be rescued, or a group of passengers ecstatic about a family golfing trip, even if these things really happened, they seem like hackneyed ideas and they simply aren’t as interesting as the investigation. So on time management Eastwood doesn’t score too highly this time. I know he didn’t write it, but he’s instinctively a better filmmaker than Todd Komarnicki’s script gives him credit for.

In the end, though, ‘Sully’ is worth seeing and it’s worth seeing in IMAX. The spectacle of the accident and the surprising ways in which it’s recounted are a dazzling sample of some of Clint Eastwood’s best visual work. The allusions made to 9/11 feel apropos because it’s quite startling to see a huge airliner careening through downtown New York, filmed with IMAX cameras.

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Hanks and Eastwood have brought their considerable talents to a thrilling snapshot of America and its capacity for heroism. Despite its flaws, maybe ‘Sully’ is just what we needed this late into the election season.

‘Sully’ is rated PG-13 for some peril and brief strong language

-George Napper

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