Two two-time Academy Award winners and multiple nominees come together for the first time to make ‘Sully’, a true story torn from the recent headlines of the news, about an airline pilot, who under extraordinary circumstances saved the lives of 155 souls aboard his plane.
Chesley Sullenberger was a veteran pilot who took off in a small passenger jet from La Guardia, New York in January 2009. Barely two minutes into the flight, as he was climbing into the skies, a flock of Canada geese slammed into his two engines, rendering them useless and the plane left with no way to stay in the air. Plummeting to earth, an eerie silence enveloping the craft, knowing he could not make it back to the airport, and not wishing to crash into Manhattan, he made the decision to land the jet on the Hudson River, no easy feat and dangerous. Yet Sullenberger, nicknamed Sully, and his co-pilot made the difficult landing without incident and saved the lives of all 155 souls on board the flight, and was at once hailed a hero. Yet the inevitable investigation brought up questions from the so-called experts, many who felt Sully could have made it back to the airport and was in fact reckless in landing on the river. This brings about the man second guessing himself, nightmares that haunt the landscape of his mind, and a sense of blame placed on himself, despite knowing in his gut with his pilot instinct he did precisely the right thing.
It is an interesting character study about a man declared a hero at once, but then the establishment or the so-called experts chip away at that status until the person begins to second guess what they did. I believe rather than trying to figure if he did the right thing in landing the plane rather than trying to go back they should thank him and be done with it.
Whenever Eastwood has cast a great actor, they have responded with superb work, from Forest Whitaker in Bird (1998) to most recently Bradley Cooper in American Sniper (2014). Tom Hanks, Oscar winner for Philadelphia (1993) and Forrest Gump (1994) is superb as Sully, capturing the home-grown decency of a man who does not see himself as a hero merely a man doing a job, his job the best way he can. Hanks has quietly become one of the finest actors in cinema history, exuding a goodness few actors have, yet able to cross that line and go to a dark place as he did expertly as the killer in Road to Perdition (2002). He is best as a conflicted man and when he goes to that place here, when pushed to second guess his actions his character becomes haunted by nightmares of a crash, of a very different and tragic outcome. Nominated five times for Best Actor, it should be nine with another two for supporting actor, Hanks is a likely nominee here for his outstanding performance. It will make his first nomination in sixteen years and that is far to long given the work he has been doing in the years between. There are fine supporting performances from Aaron Eckhart as his co-pilot and Laura Linney as Sully’s wife, but let’s be fair, this is the Hanks-Eastwood show and they do not disappoint.
Eastwood became one of the top directors in movies a long time ago and has since built a legend for his shooting the rehearsals, one takes, and pushing actors to do their best early rather than late. He does not suffer fools nor big egos and is quick to shut that down when it appears on his set. Actors revere him, the studio loves him because he always comes in under budget and on time, the average shooting day of an Eastwood film, thirty days. He is today better known as a filmmaker and rightly so, because it is what he does best. Like all of his best work, Sully is taut and tightly directed,an intense 96 minutes, so shorter than the average film, but there is a lot packed into that running time.