PROVING that at 86 he’s still got it, Clint Eastwood teams up for the first time with Tom Hanks for the autobiographical Sully, an often gripping story of what is known as the Miracle on the Hudson.
We start with a journey on a plane which appears in danger. Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger (Hanks) and Jeffrey ‘Jeff’ Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) are piloting when Sully, convinced he can land the plane, flies too low and the plane crashes right in the middle of New York. Then, Sully wakes up. This is just a nightmare and the basis for the story has already happened.
In January 2009, following birds flying into the left engine, the plane Sullenberger pilots finds itself in danger of crashing. With his viewpoint that the plane had flown too far to travel back to LaGuardia Airport or to another airport, he makes the decision to crash-land the plane into the Hudson River.
Knowing it’s the only chance he has of guaranteeing survival, he does just that, saving himself and all passengers whiteout a single fatality.
Though heralded a national hero, Sully’s actions however result in him being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board on the grounds that there were safer options. As the investigation progresses, Sully faces the possibility of his reputation being retained or damaged, irrespective of his achievement.
With what sounds like a dream team of Eastwood and Hanks as director-actor respectively, a piece is constructed that tells of a real-life event and finds a way to immortalise on screen a genuine hero.
Eastwood deliberately frames his work into a non-linear piece to the point where we are kept on our toes as we await the crash-landing and the events leading up to and after it. It allows us to observe that beforehand the impact that the crash-landing has had on Sully, who is forced to remain in New York whilst the investigation progresses.
As his public profile is enhanced with appearances on David Letterman’s chat-show and bars named drinks after him, Sully tries to keep it together, haunted though at what could have been. This for the most part is a film which relies on Hanks, who does a splendid job at times keeping our attention on him, aware that it his reputation at stake in spite of what was seen as an act of true heroism.
We don’t get to see a ”WILSONNNNNNNNNN!” or a ”You died on a Tuesday” or (from the ending of Captain Phillips) a ”Little bit” use of acting that makes Hanks what he is, but we do get a restrained and watchable performance, notably in the crash-landing scenes.
As Sully declares ”Brace for impact” then ”Evacuate” we see a guy who can command a screen with ease just by saying simple but effective lines. With his dyed silver hair and moustache, Hanks not only passes physically for the role but also convinces at detailing a man who knew he had done right and making us believe the same throughout, even when other possibilities are examined.
The sequences depicting the events before, during and after the crash-landing are of particular engagement with Eastwood showing us the perspectives of supporting passengers, air-traffic controllers as well as the eponymous, making us connect with those onscreen.
As the plane takes off and the birds land in the engine, Eastwood directs us with an atmosphere so taut that it is almost like we are inside the plane too and even from the safety of a cinema seat feel genuinely uncomfortable.
Reconstructing the moments when Sully guides his passengers out refusing to leave until he knows all are out adds to the tension as water rises, and though we know how it ended, the intensity remains just the same as the opposite.
When passengers are left standing on the wings, it begs astonishment when taking into account that all this is true and that it really is a miracle that all survived. It really is a carefully-placed and tremendous set of sequences to watch and shows it was worth waiting for as the film gradually reveals what happened.
The film does have an issue with regards to the third act. If the whole film has been playing the way it has up until then, surely hat means we are in for a grand final act?
Though never boring, it does feel as if a weight has been taken off its shoulders and that the investigation is not as gripping or compulsive as sequences previously shown. Predictability is an issue too, but its a flaw which doesn’t really add too much because all before it has gone down so well.
The supporting cast are fairly good company to watch too with Eckhart as Sully’s co-pilot, determined to stand by his colleague throughout. It is he who gets some likeable lines, notably one where he complains about a Snickers costing five dollars in the hotel he is in with Sully.
Laura Linney also manages to stay necessary to the picture as Sully’s concerned wife who spends all her scenes conversing with her husband on the phone, giving a backstory about financial situations in their lives.
Delivering yet another enjoyable film about real-life American figures, Clint Eastwood brings Sully to life thanks to its often intense storytelling, anchored by a sound performance from Tom Hanks.