by George Wolf
Carrying a true American icon both in front of the camera and behind it, Sully lands with a smooth craftsmanship as fitting as it is inevitable.
In January of 2009, Captain Chesley Sullenberger pulled off the Miracle on the Hudson, landing a commercial jet on the Hudson River after dual engine failure, saving the lives of all 155 souls on board. Based on Sullenberger’s own memoir, this tale of American heroism in the face of extreme circumstance probably had Clint Eastwood’s name on the director’s chair before the Captain even finished his book.
And really, who else is more suited for the helm of a vessel in peril than Tom Hanks?
Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki rightly anchor the film with the miraculous landing, while highlighting the human drama of a conflicted hero and the lives that hung in the balance during 208 fateful seconds. We get a subtle overview of Sully’s four decades of flight experience, nicely balanced with glimpses into the lives of his passengers and the seemingly random events that brought them all together.
It’s a strange thing for an actor to reach the level Hanks has, where he is universally regarded as such a treasure that his startling performance three years ago in Captain Philips became some sort of jarring reminder that, oh yeah, he’s good. This title role bears obvious similarities, but Hanks is able to illustrate the differences with easy grace. From Sully’s nagging self-doubt, to a determined defense of his choice to bypass nearby runways, to the stifling effects of sudden fame, Hanks carves out layers that are unique and deeply felt.
Eastwood builds the tension quietly, maintaining a consistent tone of understatement that makes the spectacle of the water landing all the more breathtaking (and worth the extra dough for IMAX). Kudos, too, for the almost Rashoman-style approach to framing the tragedy, and the respectful acknowledgment to the painful memories rekindled by the image of a crippled plane in NYC.
Not every scene embraces subtlety and not every line finds its mark, but Sully does, because it approaches the story precisely the way Sully himself seemed to approach his job. It’s a film that is modest, prepared and professional, with important moments that rise to the occasion.