At The Movies: Sully

It’s hard to speak ill of “Sully.” It’s one of those amazing-but-true inspirational tales of an unassuming, ordinary person doing extraordinary things under terrible conditions. It’s directed by the always solid Clint Eastwood. It stars the always reliable Tom Hanks. It’s a sure crowd pleaser.

So I’ll leave my minor but nagging criticisms for the end.

Hanks stars as veteran US Airways pilot Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. One morning he and co-pilot Jeffery Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) begin a routine flight out of New York City when they encounter a flock of geese engaged in an unexpected game of chicken. The birds lose but in the process do enough damage to the plane’s engines than an emergency landing is necessary.

sully-2016-movie-posterConvinced they won’t make it back to LaGuardia or any other nearby landing strip, Sully decides to put the plane down in the frigid winter waters of the Hudson River. The pilot defies all odds and prior aviation history and lands the plane without a single casualty. Sully quickly becomes a national hero.

But there ain’t no drama in that. Enter the National Transportation Safety Board, aka The Heavies. While friendly at first, the investigators quickly question whether Sully used sound judgement in making a water landing and doubt his assurance that both engines were taking out by the birds.

“Sully” is a well-meaning and well-produced drama that I found entertaining but hollow. A big part of my problem is that there isn’t enough substance here for a movie, even one clocking in at a reasonable 96 minutes. The crash itself is over in minutes, leaving the bulk of the film focused on Sully sitting in hotel rooms or bars dealing with his new heroic status while anxious about his future. Laura Linney gets the unenviable chore of playing the worried wife, stuck dealing with the situation via telephone.

Eastwood fills some of the gaps with dream sequences and revisiting the crash throughout the film from various angles. I suspect he plays the NTSB investigators as more bloodthirsty than they were in the real account. But that’s what makes compelling cinema.

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