Clint Eastwood is a legend in Hollywood. He has a fantastic career as an actor, and an equally impressive career as a director. Many of Eastwood’s films have shown he has an eye for directing. American Sniper, Jersey Boys, Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino were all directed skillfully, just to name a few. However, when it comes to Eastwood’s latest directorial effort, Sully, something is off. This film isn’t on par with some of Eastwood’s other movies, but it’s hard to pinpoint who’s to blame.
Before we get too far into things, it should be stated that Sully is not a bad film. There are quite a few shortcomings, but there’s still plenty to enjoy. If you’re unfamiliar with the US Airways flight that was forced to land in the Hudson River, don’t worry because the film covers the forced landing multiple times. In fact, that’s one of the issues with the movie. Instead of letting the events of that faithful day simply play out on screen, the filmmakers decided to flip the order so that the crash is a flashback. Normally that wouldn’t be an issue, but the crash is on display over and over from varying perspectives. While it may sound a bit odd, the crash is the least eventful part of the film.
Whether or not you know about the real life events going into the film, you already know the outcome of the crash within the first few minutes of the movie. Unfortunately, this makes it much more difficult for the filmmakers to convey the emotion the passengers and crew went through on that day. Many of the more emotional events come off as almost comical instead of having the devastating impact you would expect from a plane crash.
The human element of the film is completely lost until the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) review of the crash toward the end of the movie. It’s that trial-like third act where the film finally comes to life, but it’s too little too late. It’s just difficult to care about the passengers or the incident when you see it several times and know the outcome at the beginning of the film. Even Titantic tugged on your heart strings despite knowing everything that was about happen as you watched it. That’s because the film is all about the human element. You care about the passengers long before the ship strikes ice, so their fate is meaningful. The same can’t be said about Sully.
Another similar film is Flight, starring Denzel Washington. That 2012 film offered a similar premise. While it wasn’t based on a true story, the subject of the film was the pilot, just like the aptly named Sully. The crash itself is far more intense, and you don’t see it over and over in Flight. Even still, it’s the human element that really draws you into Flight and that’s sorely missing in Sully.
Despite these issues, the cast of Sully is exceptional. Tom Hanks is convincing as Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. He’s calm throughout the entire film, which is surprising given the events unfolding around him. Aaron Eckhart plays first officer Jeff Skiles, who tails Sully throughout most of the film as they go through several NTSB interviews. There are a few other actors in the film, but it’s really about these two. Even Sully’s wife, Lorraine Sullenberger (Laura Linney), is inconsequential. Sully calls home multiple times and it never really means anything or advances the story in any way.
Remove Eastwood, Hanks and Eckhart from the film and it could easily be a movie of the week on a random cable channel. The actors elevate the film a bit, but it’s not enough to make it a must-see feature. If you want to see an exciting film about a plane crash, Flight is a much better option. That isn’t to say Sully is a bad film, it just doesn’t bring anything of significance to the table until the far more exciting NTSB review in the third act. If you can catch Sully on Netflix or Redbox, do so. Feel free to skip this one in theaters.
Synopsis: The story of Chesley Sullenberger, who became a hero after gliding his plane along the water in the Hudson River, saving all of the airplane flights 155 crew and passengers.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writers: Todd Komarnicki, Chesley Sullenberger
Stars: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney
Runtime: 1 Hour, 35 Minutes