For Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, landing an airplane in the Hudson River and saving all 155 passengers and crew onboard made for the worst day of his life. At least, that’s what the film Sully would have us believe. I won’t make the argument that this is just another sad white man movie (though if you wanted to, there is plenty of evidence), but I will say that for a character study there isn’t much of a character in sight. That is one of many issues with this Tom Hanks led drama. Half ode to the spirit of the old man, half study in disdain toward the general public, Sully lacks much of a pulse.
If there’s anything we can’t blame this abysmal film on, it’s not any presumed laziness by its director Clint Eastwood. Since the year 2000, he’s directed a total of 14 films, starring in 4 of them. Out of all those movies, Letters from Iwo Jima and Million Dollar Baby stand as good films (don’t get me started on Mystic River). Eastwood may not consistently make good films, but they at least make some narrative logic. The same can’t be said for Sully.
It’s really no exaggeration when I tell you the same 4 scenes are told throughout the film. There’s one version of a scene where Tom Hanks (the most bored we’ve seen him in recent memory) stares into the distance with a solemn look until someone thanks him for everything he’s done. Sully and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart getting all the fun things to say) are interrogated about whether landing in the Hudson was the right course of action. Sully talks to his wife (poor Laura Linney) and doesn’t seem to care to talk to his two daughters, and then there’s the plane crash itself. Unfortunately for Eastwood, those 4 scenes in any order don’t make a movie.
Among the things that don’t work is the cinematography. Shot by Eastwood’s veteran DP Tom Stern using digital IMAX cameras (the first film to fully shoot using the format), it’s sad to say that this film looks incredibly blunt and dull. For full disclosure, I did not watch this film in any IMAX theatre, but I saw it in my local large premium format theatre which can more than make up for anything I may have missed (aside from the extra image on the top and bottom). That said, there’s really no excuse for this film being as ugly as it is. Each camera movement does little to tell the story through any form of blocking, the foreground or background detail is misused, etc.
When it comes right down to it, this doesn’t feel like a movie. Never quite a character study, but not enough momentum or plot points to be considered a narrative, Clint Eastwood fails as a director to bring the story out of the film. If we’re to go by the screenplay, maybe it shouldn’t have been made in the first place. Not even the great Tom Hanks can break out a slight bit of charisma or the type of every-man role we get every once in a while out of him.
By the time the movie ends, we all realize we’ve been duped. With a climactic scene straight out of a rejected Aaron Sorkin screenplay, we get to watch simulations of what could have happened in the plane crash. It’s not particularly suspenseful or thrilling. The film doesn’t care if he did the right thing: we already know he did. But it wants us to know that Sully needs to feel validated and through that, he will feel like he did the right thing. What is the message of the film? Maybe it’s a white man not feeling like he gets enough credit (though there’s no people of color to be found so there’s not much to support that theory) or maybe it’s that he feels alone (there’s also the fact that he’s rarely alone)?
Sully is a miscalculated mess from the beginning to the end. My audience seemed to eat it up, but Eastwood knows where to put a crowd-pleasing moment in a film. He gets them right where he wants them, but they don’t care. It’s probably a decent film, but just try not to think at all.
- Aaron Eckhart is quite good as Sully's co-pilot
- Plane crash scenes are actually pretty thrilling
- Clint Eastwood must have rushed this into production: Sully is a complete mess
- Tom Hanks is wasted in such a monotonous role
- Despite digital IMAX cameras, the film still looks hideous