Movie review: Eastwood and Hanks team for compelling biopic with ‘Sully’
–Most of us make hundreds of decisions a day. Even the smallest decision can have big ripples, but it’s hard to think about that at the time. And many things become routine — especially after years of doing the same thing. That was probably true of Capt. Chesley Sullenberger as he climbed into the cockpit on January 14, 2009. But then everything changed.
By now, most everyone has heard of Sullenberger, better known as “Sully,” and the Miracle on the Hudson. The new movie, “Sully,” doesn’t so much chronicle that short flight, but rather the investigation that followed. The most compelling moment, among many, was when Sully tells his co-pilot wearily that he’s delivered more than 1 million passengers safely, but his career will be judged on 208 seconds.
It’s a sobering thought, one of many we get in the film as director Clint Eastwood and star Tom Hanks seek to dive deep into the mind of the man. While everyone hailed him a hero, the NTSB had questions and Sully couldn’t help but have doubts. A career as a pilot and safety expert hinged on the decisions he had to make in a split second.
The film picks up as Sully (Hanks) and his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), are sequestered at a hotel in New York City preparing to be questioned by the NTSB after a forced water landing in the Hudson River. All 155 passengers and crew made it out safely, but the NTSB has to follow up on the investigation.
The initial interview goes well, but it’s clear that the NTSB is planning something more. Meanwhile Sully is isolated from his wife (Laura Linney) and family, pressed into doing media interviews and beginning to second-guess himself.
Through a series of flashbacks the film dives into the events of that day and the step-by-step process that led to his decision to land in the Hudson River. At the same time, the NTSB is running its own simulations trying to determine if Sully is the hero the media claims, to a pilot who panicked and put an airplane down in the river in error.
We’re all familiar with this basic story. The Miracle on the Hudson made news for months, and nearly everyone hailed Sully a hero. But few probably understand what went on behind the scenes, and how difficult it was for Sully himself in that time following the crash. Based in part on Sullenberger’s own book, “Sully” seeks to be a profile of the man during the aftermath rather than merely a recounting of the famous event.
To be sure, the crash is a big part of the film. Plenty of time is spent showing what happened from different perspectives, hailing the many people involved in the event as heroes. In some ways it’s a celebration of the people of New York, too, especially the ferry boat personnel and first responders who quickly scooped the plane’s occupants from the icy waters. That made it the ideal release for 9/11 weekend.
It’s also the kind of introspective story of an unexpected hero that allows Eastwood to thrive as a director. It’s a crisp 96 minutes, and completely riveting. Eastwood had a great run of films in the first decade of the 21st Century, but had been hit-or-miss recently. I think “Sully” is his best, most satisfying film in a couple years.
That’s largely thanks to Hanks as well. Hanks, a two-time Academy Award winner, is one of the finest actors of his generation. He’s performed brilliantly in a wide variety of roles and films, and he seems the perfect choice for this role. He sinks into the character so completely — and has such a different look — you sometimes forget it’s Tom Hanks you’re watching. That’s a credit to the actor and his craft in this role.
The rest of the support cast performs well, too. There’s plenty of talented actors in the film, many appearing in small roles, who help round out the presentation and storytelling.
September has started off with some powerful films, and “Sully” certainly fits the bill. It’s a compelling story that’s beautifully told. It’s worth seeing for the work of Hanks alone.
“Sully” has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for some peril and brief strong language.
Four stars out of four.