Clint Eastwood is a good director when the right story comes along, and that happens less frequently than most of us would like. Gran Torino is considered by many to be the last truly great Eastwood project but has this film finally come along to dethrone the champion?
Let’s take a look at Sully.
The movie begins after the infamous water landing of 2009 (also known as The Miracle on the Hudson), as Captain Chesley Sullenberger, aka Sully, and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles are under scrutiny by the FAA over the decision to head for the water rather than return to the airport. As Sully struggles with whether or not he did the right thing, he plays the event over and over again as they come up to an official hearing.
Tom Hanks is predictably excellent, not reaching the heights of his performance in Captain Phillips but still an emotionally charged role. He’s going to get the Oscar nod for sure, and depending on the competition this year, he might win it. Aaron Eckhart is great at Sully’s tired and bitter Skiles, the younger and more riled up of the two. Laura Linney plays Sully’s wife, which ended up being a more important role than I anticipated, as she acts as the connection to the world outside of the investigation and the water landing but it’s not what I would call Oscar-worthy.
It should go without saying that the film has great cinematography — Eastwood’s always had a good idea for shadow and light, for composing and setting up shots. To me, the pacing seemed off, but the effect that might have intended was to make Sully’s time in New York as a blur, but it just felt rushed. Every plot point has time to unfurl, and the actual water landing is incredibly suspenseful, even though we already know everyone was saved.
Eastwood is smart to show us the multiple scenarios of the plane crashing before giving us the payoff of seeing the plane land successfully. In this way, we get both Sully’s anxiety and fear, but also the background-anxiety that was so prevalent at the time. If there’s anything this movie does well is recreate the world of New York City 2009, and nailing that and Sully’s character of a man just trying to do his job right, helps this movie soar beyond a simple retelling.
What works about Sully is not that it is a movie about a flawed man, but rather it is a screenshot of the kind of world we lived in. Living in the shadow of 9/11, holding our breaths until the next in a string of terrifying disasters only to see what could easily be considered a modern miracle take place. Any number of little details could have gone wrong and yet everything fell into the exact right place. But we are skeptical of miracles — we want to believe and yet also we don’t want to get our hopes up.
And yet, the film fails to leave a lasting mark on the audience in spite of all its fine points. Maybe because being a New Yorker who was alive at the time of the accident, watching it in a theater with a bunch of other New Yorkers who lived through it. I watched the coverage live and I remember the atmosphere, which the film emulates to a tee, as I have said. But it somehow manages to fail to capture the elation afterwards, even with all the thanking of Sully and all news coverage. The relief, the lifting of the spirits, the collective internal cheering is lost because of the focus on Sully’s stress.
Ultimately, Sully is a great movie that hits on all elements and is, technically, a disaster masterpiece. And while I think it’s the kind of character study that Eastwood succeeds at time and time again, it never goes beyond that to fully capture The Miracle on The Hudson in all its messy, exuberant complexity.
– Excellent acting.
– Excellent cinematography.
– Fantastic writing.
– Some pacing issues.
– Fails to recapture the feeling after.