Movie Review: Sully
Director: Clint Eastwood
Date: 12 November 2016
Sully works best as a portrait of systems of synergy, the unique linking of teams of people that combined to save the day in New York City's post-9-11 world when birds flew into the engine of a plane forcing an emergency landing in the Hudson River. Strange is the film that has a very public (and happy) ending to it that an audience knows before going in, but Eastwood uses an interesting structure, complete with Sully's fantasies of what could have happened (the plane ripping through buildings in downtown Manhattan), while also unfortunately turning the NTSB into a needlessly evil and antagonistic opponent to the vaunted, cool under pressure Sully (Tom Hanks). Hanks is very good here, compressing emotion into his face and into Sully's quick thinking along with his co-pilot (played by Aaron Eckhart). But Eastwood is focused on their partnership and the systems that interlock and unite us and work together here, in a love-note to the people involved in saving so many in a situation that could have gone disastrously wrong. There are the harbor boats with their quick maneuvering to the scene; there are the frog divers of the NYPD who skillfully enter the frigid waters and contain the emergency. There is Sully, walking through the waters of his sinking airplane, making sure that everyone is off of the plane, that everyone is safe, in scenes that are unapologetically and undeniably powerful. Fighting off tears, I thought about the sheer terror of those moments, which is not diluted by our knowing of the happy ending. It resembles Titanic in those moments, the collision of water and manmade craft, the rising water and inevitability of loss.
I am disheartened by Eastwood's desire to demonize the government entity involved in investigating the landing. I am also critical of his failure to end his movie well, choosing a light punchline from Eckhart instead of reaching for any deeper meaning or point. He has this trend, which I do not love, of pulling back the curtain in his credits and showing the real funeral of Chris Kyle in American Sniper and here, the real Sully with his reunion with the passengers. I'm reminded of Roger Ebert stating at the end of What's Love Got To Do With It?, when the director showed the real Tina Turner performing after seeing Angela Bassett belt her heart and soul out as the character for two hours, "Is this necessary?" I am glad that Eastwood wants to examine shock and post-traumatic stress in our national identity, and I applaud the desire to set the context of 9-11 always in our minds with this event, with it being a September release. My favorite moment was a quiet reaction from Sully to his co-pilot when they both had to step outside of the hearing to process some new information. It is a soft conversation of low-key proportions, and the gratitude and acknowledgement of one character to the other is emotionally powerful.Eastwood remains a compelling and thought-provoking filmmaker, and Hanks proves himself completely capable in registering the complexity of the man and the moment when quick decisions saved countless lives.