DIR: Clint Eastwood • WRI: Todd Komarnicki • PRO: Clint Eastwood, Frank Marshall, Allyn Stewart • DOP: Tom Stern • ED: Blu Murray • DES: James J. Murakami • MUS: Christian Jacob, Tierney Sutton Band • CAST: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney
Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial offering is Sully, which is based on the incredible true story of US Airways Flight 1549, which landed on New York’s Hudson River on January 15th 2009. Sully stars Tom Hanks as Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberg, who somehow defied all odds to safely avoid a catastrophic outcome to his aircraft, which suffered from dual engine loss after a bird strike seconds after take-off. Sully explores the 208 seconds of Flight 1549’s flight time; the outcome of the plane landing in icy waters; saving the lives of the 155 passengers and crew; and the post-traumatic difficulties Sully endured. Eastwood includes the NTSB investigation that occurred after the incident where the judgement of Sully and First Officer Jeff Skiles, played by Aaron Eckhart, are questioned.
Everyone knows the outcome of this story. Sully landed the plane on the Hudson River and there were no casualties. Despite this, Eastwood has created a stunning and immersive film where you are almost a passenger on that flight, but also in the mindframe of Sully himself. The scenes on-board became a nauseous experience for me, having seen an IMAX screening of the film, but it’s crafted in a manner that places you in every part of the plane, as well as the icy waters of the Hudson River. Eastwood has created a non-linear narrative and he chooses to include segments of the flight throughout its running time, instead of devoting an entire act to the flight. There are also brief flashbacks to Sully’s early piloting career and his skill as a pilot.
Casting Tom Hanks as Sully is a safe, but trusted, move. With Hanks, Eastwood was in safe hands characterising the pilot. His performance as Captain Sullenberg becomes a significant highlight of Sully and Hanks shines throughout. It’s a nuanced performance, but like contemporaries such as Michael Fassbender, Hanks says so much without saying anything. His eyes become the outlet of Sully’s inner mental state. Sully is an experienced pilot and we can see the experience from Hanks and his eyes. There is one scene in particular where Sully looks out at the New York skyline and Eastwood captures a trapped, claustrophobic person lost amongst everything before him. With these pieces of direction twinned with Hanks and his eyes, the weary nature and inner struggles of Sully are expertly brought to life on-screen.
The one problem of the film, however, is the inclusion of sub-plots. There is a father and his two sons who almost miss the flight and then lose each other as all passengers flee from the plane once it lands on the Hudson. It detracts from the overall plot and obviously was included to highlight a human element of the story, but it simply doesn’t work. Also, Sully’s family feel shoehorned into the narrative, despite the always-reliable Laura Linney cast as Sully’s wife. Although, he’s much removed from them as they are from the overall narrative, as Sully had to remain in New York for the post-flight investigation and media appearances. Yet, Sully’s relationship with his family doesn’t appear credible in the film.
Overall, Sully works on many levels. The visual effects and set constructions are more than impressive and this assists in creating the immersive and vicarious nature of Sully. Clint Eastwood deserves praise for not creating an over-dramatic retelling of Flight 1549; instead he has created a solid piece that deserves Academy Award recognition. Tom Hanks deserves the most plaudits for presenting a powerful characterisation of a man that has become a legend. Most importantly, Sully allows us all to acknowledge that Chesley “Sully” Sullenberg is an incredible individual for his heroism on January 15th 2009.
12A (See IFCO for details)
Sully is released 2nd December 2016