‘Sully’ Review: Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood Land a Vivid Drama About a Real-Life Hero
The Hollywood Reporter September 3rd, 2016 by Todd McCarthy
A vigorous and involving salute to professionalism and being good at your job, Sully vividly portrays the physical realities and human elements in the dramatic safe landing of a crippled US Airways jet on the Hudson River on January 15, 2009. An elegant and eloquent docudrama, Clint Eastwood’s 35th feature as a director is also, at 96 minutes, the shortest of all his films, which well serves this to-the-point account of a potential tragedy with a happy ending. With a white-haired and mustachioed Tom Hanks in the title role, this taut, upbeat drama looks to play well with a wide general audience.
“It’s been a while since New York had news this good, especially with an airplane in it,” one character remarks, which neatly sums up the appeal of a yarn that offered all the seeds of tragedy. When a freak encounter with a large flock of birds shut down both engines of an A320 with 155 people on board two minutes after taking off from La Guardia Airport, pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger quickly decided that the now-descending plane didn’t have the power to make it back to La Guardia or another airport. He therefore determined to make a water landing, which happened less than four minutes later.
The incident is repeated, in variations, several times over the course of the time-jumping script by Todd Komarnicki, because what looked like an act of logic, wisdom and heroism to those whose lives were saved instead was severely questioned by the National Transportation Safety Board, which initially argued that the plane could have turned back. This results in some tense and sleepless nights for Sully but, dramatically speaking, the story is the inverse of that of the 2012 aviation drama Flight, in which Denzel Washington’s pilot may have saved the day but had some personal issues eminently worthy of the inquiry board’s attention.
An alarming opening sequence illustrates what probably would have happened had Sully and his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), decided to try to make it back to where they took off — a fiery crash into Manhattan buildings. Such images haunt Sully and send him out to jog through the nocturnal city streets and along the river where his plane came to rest. Reporters hound him, his wife (Laura Linney) remains in high-stress mode back home and Sully, notwithstanding all the personal and public adulation he’s received, can’t help rethinking the whole incident and fearing that the investigators will somehow show that one of the engines retained sufficient thrust to allow the jet to keep flying. Some TV commentators are already suggesting that Sully is a fraud who made a blundering decision that could result in his suspension and no pension.
A 42-year veteran, Sully is the kind of decent, upright, right-minded fellow who used to figure in movies all the time from the 1930s-1950s, a reliable Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda or Gregory Peck type of guy you could always count on to do the right thing. The last man like this to anchor a film onscreen was probably in Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, in which the character was played by — who else? — Hanks. When Sully says, “I don’t feel like a hero. I was just a man doing a job,” you might feel like you’re watching a Howard Hawks film of more than half a century ago.
But while this feels like an old-fashioned sentiment, perhaps it shouldn’t, and it’s easy to surmise that it also fits squarely with Eastwood’s philosophical view of things. Even now, in his mid-80s, he’s a man who, like Spielberg, rarely lets a year go by without making a new film and does it his own way, with little fuss. He is, at his core, a professional, and it’s clearly on this basis that he strongly connects with Sully, a man whose character is defined by how he does his job.
When you get right down to it, there’s not a whole lot of story in Komarnicki’s screenplay, only a central incident that can be examined from multiple perspectives and a main character whose core values are put to the test and found valid. A half-hour in, the film serves up a comprehensive account of the flight up to the point of impact then, a bit later, reveals the rather more complex details of what happened when the passengers had to be quickly evacuated in winter conditions.A couple of panicky passengers end up in the 36-degree water; most of them tensely don life-jackets, file out the emergency exits and stand on the two main wings. Of course, the crew and captain are the last to leave, although Sully has no way to know at this point whether everyone made it out or not.
Crisply shot by Tom Stern in great part with IMAX cameras and seen to impressive advantage in this format, the film is distinguished by essentially seamless visual effects that make all aspects of the highly photogenic near-catastrophe riveting to watch; the film is supremely well-crafted in all regards.
One striking difference between this and most of Eastwood’s previous work, however, is the pacing. After working for four decades with master editor Joel Cox and making very few films that came in at under two hours, Eastwood took this occasion to promote Blu Murray from assistant editor, a position she had filled under Cox since 2006. The result is swift, fleet-footed cutting that imparts a noticeably different feel from most of the director’s more measured work, a snappy momentum that perfectly suits the nature of the material.
Made up to look older than his years, Hanks confidently carries the film as a man of undoubted decency and judgment who is nonetheless made to question, however incorrectly and briefly, actions prudently made under conditions of great stress. Secondary characters are strictly one-dimensional, with Eckhart’s less experienced co-pilot staunchly backing the old pro in the left-hand seat and Linney confined to pouring out concern long-distance over the phone.
Warner Bros. Production: Malpaso, Flashlight Films, Kennedy/Marshall, Director: Clint Eastwood Screenwriter: Todd Komarnicki, based on the book “Highest Duty” by Capt. Chesley 'Sully’ Sullenberger with Jeffrey Zaslow
Cast: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Mike O'Malley, Anna Gunn, Jamey Sheridan, Ann Cusack, Jane Gabbert, Molly Hagan, Holt McCallany, Chris Bauer, Patch Darragh
Producers: Clint Eastwood, Frank Marshall, Allyn Stewart, Tim Moore Executive producers: Steve Mnuchin, Kipp Nelson, Bruce Berman Director of photography: Tom Stern Production designer: James J. Murakami Costume designer: Deborah Hopper Editor: Blu Murray Music: Christian Jacob and the Tierney Sutton Band Visual effects: Michael Owens Casting: Geoffrey Miclat PG-13, 96 minutes
Sully review: Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks turn a mile-high miracle into middling drama.
Eastwood vividly depicts the 2009 harrowing landing of a major aircraft on the Hudson river multiple times in his otherwise perfunctory drama centred on the embattled pilot who saved 155 lives
The Guardian - Nigel M Smith
In person, Clint Eastwood recently has the tendency to come across as brash and combative (in an August interview he derided much of America as a “pussy generation” while telling people to “just fucking get over” Donald Trump’s many controversial remarks). As a film-maker, however, the 86-year-old is the antithesis. His best work – Letters From Iwo Jima, Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River, Unforgiven – all share an understated quality that means the emotional impact of his stories rings authentic. Eastwood’s most recent, Sully, squarely fits that bill.
Starring Tom Hanks as Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot responsible for the extraordinary landing of a plane on the Hudson river in 2008, with no casualties, Sully is an unabashed crowdpleaser about a hero fighting to maintain that title when corporate greed threatens to tarnish his image. There’s little crass audience manipulation in Eastwood’s depiction of the harrowing plane landing and the surprising investigation that followed – he’s the type of director who just gives it to you plain and simple.
For audiences, the chance to see an IMAX-shot recreation of the shocking landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in the middle of the river is no doubt a big selling point. In that sense, Sully delivers tenfold.
Eastwood and his screenwriter Todd Komarnicki (working off of Sullenberger’s book Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters) make the surprising decision to revisit the event multiple times throughout the lean 98 minutes runtime, to offer the perspectives of Sullenberger and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), the flight’s passengers and attendants, the air-traffic controllers, and even the emergency-response crew. The reenactments are all equally compelling, although one tracking the experience of the passengers gets marred a bit by overt sentimentalism.
Even more horrifying are the nightmare scenarios Eastwood conjures up, during which Sullenberger imagines a fatal outcome had he followed through on the contested strategy of returning to LaGuardia Airport with the plane’s engines failing. Watching an aircraft smash into New York skyscrapers might prove too unsettling for some, recalling in blunt terms the horrors of 9/11. The terrifying sequences do however go a long way to sell that Sullenberger’s actions saved not only the 155 lives aboard, but also countless more.
That factor comes into play during the aftermath of the incident, when the National Transportation Safety Board keep Sullenbeger and Skiles hostage in a sterile New York hotel to accost the pair with a barrage of specific questions, ascertaining whether they in fact did the right thing. The interrogations are fittingly infuriating (at one point, Sullenberger is asked if he has troubles at home), albeit a little silly. Mike O’Malley plays one of the lead investigators as broadly evil, smirking his way through the inquisition like a Disney villain. Anna Gunn fares better, lending a needed dose of humanity to her committee member.
Sporting white hair to resemble Sullenberger, Hanks delivers an internal and sympathetic performance. Eastwood doesn’t burrow too deeply into his protagonist’s psyche, other than to visibly demonstrate that he’s haunted by the landing. Still, Hanks, who’s uncommonly, well, sullen, for much of the film, goes a long way to convey Sullenberger’s conflicted anguish. As his worried at-home wife, Laura Linney does some admirable phone acting, emoting believably with only a prop to interact with. But it all never quite takes off.
Variety Film Review: ‘Sully’ by Chief Film Critic Peter Debruge
Tom Hanks stars in the story of a hero pilot who refused to view himself as such after landing US Airways Flight 1549 on New York's Hudson River.
If there’s one Hollywood star you would trust to crash-land a commercial airliner without injuring a soul on board, it would surely be Tom Hanks. After risking his life in order to save his crew in “Captain Phillips,” the two-time Oscar-winner takes to the skies — and mere moments later, to the chilly waters of the Hudson River, after a flock of birds blows out both engines of US Airways Flight 1549 — in a remarkable true story that inspires confidence not only in its leading man, but in honest, hard-working Americans everywhere.
Directed by Clint Eastwood with the same kind of unpretentious professionalism, the film makes a point of celebrating in its protagonist. “Sully” retells the so-called “Miracle on the Hudson” through the eyes of Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, who pulled off the incredible landing — if “landing” is indeed the right word when a plane touches down on open water — based on his book, “Highest Duty.” For audiences, getting to witness the feat in question is far and away the film’s biggest selling point (and no doubt the reason why it will be opening simultaneously on Imax screens Sept. 9), but Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki have opted for a counterintuitive approach, withholding the flight itself for as long as possible and focusing primarily on the aftermath of the accident, as Sully tortures himself with questions of what he might have done differently, and as a team of National Transportation Safety Board investigators attempt to ask him the same thing.
While that means more of the film is set in the hot seat of inquest chambers and courtrooms than in the cockpit itself, starting after the plane has safely landed is a shrewd storytelling strategy for multiple reasons. Not least of these is that it allows Eastwood to parcel out multiple impressions of the incident — from extended flashbacks to crude simulations — over the course of movie, effectively offering audiences six plane crashes for the price of one.
In fact, the film, which runs an efficient 96 minutes, in Eastwood’s typical no-fat style, holds back on what really happened until more than an hour in, and instead opens with a vivid nightmare in which Sully imagines a far different outcome had he followed through on his initial strategy of returning to LaGuardia Airport with practically no thrust in either engine, culminating in a fiery demise for all aboard as Flight 1549 crashes into a skyscraper. And then he wakes up.
The unsettling dream sequence is strangely less exciting than such airline-disaster openings as those in “Flight” and “Alive.” And yet, distasteful as it may be to watch a plane smash into the New York skyline, conjuring images of 9/11, it’s a reminder that Sullenberger’s actions potentially saved more than the lives of his 155 airline passengers.
This isn’t the first time Eastwood has opened a film with a major CG cataclysm: In the relatively heavy-handed “Hereafter,” he kicked off proceedings by demolishing the coast of Thailand with a dramatic recreation of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. While only a dream sequence, “Sully’s” opening feels less like a stunt from a director who alternates between sober, seemingly timeless portraits of exceptional personalities (“American Sniper,” “Million Dollar Baby”), and corny, cardboard melodramas too old-fashioned in their approach (“Jersey Boys,” “Changeling”), occasionally landing somewhere in the middle (à la “Flags of Our Fathers”). “Sully” is an example of the last done right: a straightforward tribute to the extraordinary actions taken by an irreproachable character who refuses to see himself as a hero. It’s not a particularly great Clint Eastwood movie — it ranks perhaps ninth or 10th on a résumé of 35 features, two of them best picture winners — but it’s one that promises to resonate in a big way with Americans at this moment in time.
Ripped from the headlines, “Sully” offers a rare example of a movie inspired by good news — the best news, as one character points out, that New York has heard in a long time, “especially with an airplane in it.” And because most Americans already know the outcome, it makes sense to focus on the less-known “what happened next” of it all, after Flight 1549 had faded from the TV news cycle. (In the film, whenever there’s a television in a scene — whether in a bar or a hotel or back home at the Sullenberger residence — it’s covering the story.) What most people don’t know is the cruel irony that despite saving everyone’s lives, Sully still had to answer to the NTSB, which felt that his decision to effect a forced water landing had actually endangered everyone aboard. According to protocol, Sully should have returned to LaGuardia, or else tried to land at nearby Teterboro Airport, and both the airline’s insurance company and Sully himself are faced with the consequences of his decision — one that’s informed by the pilot having delivered nearly a million passengers over some 40 years.
Sullenberger may be haunted (visions of crashing planes become a recurring motif), but he’s not alone. His co-pilot, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), sticks to Sully’s side like a faithful collie, while his wife, Lorrie (Laura Linney), offers encouragement from home via phone. But Sully’s network of support extends far beyond that, relying on all the other professionals who played a role that day, from the air-traffic controllers to the flight attendants to the emergency-response crew, and though viewers will shake their heads at the injustice of the fact that the authorities held Sully’s feet to the fire for what happened, Eastwood’s message is one of appreciation for those who responded to a crisis in which everyone survived, where the pilot did his job, and where people acted admirably across the board. As Skiles tells the NTSB investigating committee, “You’re not used to having answers to your guesses.” (He also gets the movie’s last laugh, an odd, “OK, I guess we can all go home now” chuckle.)
In terms of acting, there’s not a whole lot for the supporting cast to do other than support, and some of the extras (most notably the passengers) can be distractingly amateurish at times. This is Hanks’ show, and he delivers a typically strong performance, quickly allowing us to forget that we’re watching an actor. With his snowy white hair and mustache to match, Hanks conveys a man confident in his abilities, yet humble in his actions, which could also be said of Eastwood as a director. As unfussy as ever, Eastwood juggles the script’s odd chronology-bending structure, steering by his central character’s conscience throughout, while supplying another of his simple piano scores, which doubles as the melody for end-credits song “We’re All Flying Home” — though if ever there was a film that called for “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” this is it.
Hollywood Reporter SEPTEMBER 02, 2016 9:29pm PT by Scott Feinberg
Telluride: 'Sully' Lands as Tom Hanks Makes a Bid for an Oscar Nomination (Analysis)
The two-time Oscar winner gives a powerful performance in Clint Eastwood's latest drama.
The first-anywhere screening of Sully — Clint Eastwood's drama starring Tom Hanks as US Airways pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger — was the marquee attraction of night one of the 43rd Telluride Film Festival. The reaction of festgoers (polite applause and respectful post-screening chatter) wasn't as exuberant as the reaction earlier in the day to fest-opener La La Land, but then again, Sully's story is quite different, to say the least.
One might assume that Sully — like many other recent movies, from 2012's Argo and Zero Dark Thirty to another film about a flight gone wrong, 2006's United 93 — is a film where audiences know the ending before it begins. However, it turns out that it does not belong in that category at all. In fact, the story we all know — "The Miracle on the Hudson," wherein a plane lost both of its engines to a bird strike but none of the 155 souls on board died thanks to the brilliance of its experienced pilot — is just the beginning of the tale.
Instead, the film focuses on the aftermath of the near-crash — the successful water landing — which left Sully feeling less like the hero he was portrayed as in the media than maybe the cause of the crash itself. The pic itself feels like a nightmare, from a powerful first scene through numerous revisitations of the flight itself (which will give anyone pause before flying again). In that sense, it evokes 2012's Flight, but unlike the character that Denzel Washington played in that film en route to a best actor Oscar nom, Hanks' Sully ultimately doesn't believe he did anything wrong.
What makes this somber film palatable is Hanks' deeply moving performance. We're used to seeing the actor play either an all-American everyman or a hero. In this case, he plays someone who is both — like the main characters in many of Howard Hawks' films, and many of Eastwood's, too, Hanks' Sully is just a man committed to doing his job well and getting home to his family. Grey-haired and mustached, with little dialogue apart from some monologues at the end, the actor is anything but showy. But it's hard to imagine anyone playing the part better.
It's been 16 years since Hanks, a two-time Academy Award winner, was last nominated for an Oscar. Partly, that's because he often has played understated parts, and partly, it's because many audiences take him for granted. For those same reasons, I'm afraid he may be left out again this year. But if, like Meryl Streep in the year of The Iron Lady, he offers indications that the recognition of the Hollywood community still means something to him, he might just get it.