By: Oberst von Berauscht –
Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) is an airline pilot for U.S. Airways with 40+ years of flying experience. On January 15, 2009, just minutes into a flight from New York to Charlotte, the plane collided with a flock of geese head-on, taking out both engines. Faced with a split-second decision of whether to head back to the airport or to try and ditch the plane in the Hudson River, Captain Sully and his co-pilot Jeffery Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) chose the latter. Together they guided the plane into the river, where a speedy rescue effort managed to rescue all 155 people on board, all alive.
Sully picks up just after these events have occurred, with Captain Sullenberger is staying in a downtown hotel, awaiting the NTSB investigation. It concludes with the public hearing that was held to determine the cause of the accident.
Clint Eastwood is a true Hollywood icon, both on and off the camera. As a director, his philosophy has always been to get good, efficient workers together to get the job done. This unpretentious, workmanlike approach to cinema works best in films like Sully, where anything overly stylistic would be disingenuous. Eastwood is a collaborative filmmaker, and therefore he relies on the screenplay and the actors to bring their best game, and that thankfully happened here.
Tom Hanks gives one of his all time great performances as Captain Sullenberger, disappearing into the role completely. Hanks portrays a rare amount of subtlety here, displaying the psychological angst and torment that Sully experiences, coupled with the confusion he feels for being called a hero in one breath and criticized in the next. Hanks particularly displays an uncanny amount of chemistry with co-star Laura Linney, who plays Sullenberger’s wife.
The two never share time on-screen, save for a handful of telephone conversations, but each one is more affecting than the next. While not on duty, Sully is a nervous wreck, but in keeping with his professionalism, his demeanor changes completely when being asked about his job. Years of experience flow through him and he is able to command the room much in the same way as he pilots an airplane.
Aaron Eckhart is also compelling in his role as Jeffery Skiles, the First Officer on board the flight. Skiles does not have Sullenberger’s experience, but he is highly trained and he and Sully have an affection for each other that is similar to that which you see with old war buddies. The two have been through hell and back together, and are truly the only ones who know what it was like being in that cockpit that fateful day.
While Clint Eastwood-directed films are rarely celebrated for being visual masterpieces, cinematographer and frequent Eastwood collaborator Tom Stern gives Sully a look that is deceptively straightforward. Sully and Jeff Skiles are sequestered in their hotel rooms, unable to go out during the day for fear of being mobbed by the media.
The claustrophobic nature of this sudden fame is on full display here. When Sully goes out late at night, whether to go for a jog or to get a drink at a bar, you can almost feel the crisp January air in New York City.
I understand that the filmmakers had to take some license to give the investigation some dramatic weight. But the actors portraying the NTSB are presented as resting-bitch-faced bureaucratic shills out to wreck Sully’s career. This too easy approach allows for the story to have increased overt conflict, but while ignoring the real compelling conflict in the story, that being Captain Sullenberger’s own inner-turmoil. Director Eastwood is generally a master at directing actors. Perhaps he might have been advised to shoot another take or two until the actors portraying the NTSB learned to be a bit more subtle.
Sully is a profile of a man being judged over a single split-second decision, and the psychological impact of media hero worship.
Sully (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever the film re-plays the events of the crash
Take a Drink: every time someone says “Sully”
Take a Drink: for nightmare sequences
Do a Shot: for NTSB investigators being Hollywood movie dicks