Sully is about an ordinary man that rose to the occasion and became a hero. Seven years ago he crash-landed a plan in the Hudson River and did it without losing a single life. A lot of people would lose their mind in such a situation, but he kept his cool. His frequent response to wide-eyed onlookers asking how he did that? “I was just doing my job.” That’s admirable, heroic even. What it’s not is good material for a movie.

    This is billed as the “untold story” of that Hudson landing, but it really is director Clint Eastwood’s attempt to recreate American Sniper with Chesley Sullenberger.  That fails because Sully has nowhere near the drama or moral ambiguity of that effective war film. In this, a man does his job, and that’s it.

    Or that would be it if Sully didn’t feel the need to stuff in some of the most pointless behind-the-scenes drama I’ve ever seen. The story actually takes place after the crash and focuses on the subsequent NTSB investigation into it. That would be an interesting idea if there was an obvious thing Sullenberger did wrong or if he had something to hide (which would make this Flight starring Tom Hanks), but the only thing screenwriter Todd Komarnicki (based on Sullenberger’s memoir) can drum up is whether or not the plan had enough time to make a landing in an airport. 

    There’s two scenes where we see Sullenberger’s upbringing, and all that does is reinforce how hard Eastwood is trying to capture the same hagiography that made American Sniper such a hit with Real America a year ago. But that story had a central drama behind all the bloodshed, that of a man committing brutal actions that he had to justify to himself as being less savage than the enemy. It wasn’t perfect and definitely committed some important facts  (like Kyle making up some of his accomplishments), but it worked.

    I got the sense watching this that Eastwood was struggling to fill the 96 minute runtime here. We get two nightmare recreations of the crash (where the plan goes into New York City) and two more recreations of the crash itself. Those scenes are well-done, but they get redundant, and they’re not thrilling enough to warrant the IMAX viewing that this movie’s poster advertises.

    We get vague allusions that Sully could be stripped of his flying license and have his financial status endangered, but it’s referenced once and forgotten so the movie can continue the investigation of the crash. Several times it’s asked in the film, “why would you be in trouble, you saved everyone?”; Eastwood should’ve considered that question before he tried to find controversy where there was none.

    Hanks is excellent, although he could pull of this sort of role without even trying. Laura Linney is stuck playing the Crying Wife on the Phone that’s required in these sorts of disaster movies, while Aaron Eckhart cracks jokes while looking at people in disbelief.

    I watched this film with my girlfriend, and within five minutes I turned to her and said “There’s nothing compelling here.” Afterwards, she said that it would make an interesting documentary (i.e. Mayday), but it couldn’t work as a feature film. Her opinion is probably closer to the truth, but if both sides of the debate are calling your movie unneeded, then that’s a problem. 

 

    Post-Script: I saw this movie about 10 days ago before reading about the controversy over how the NTSB is portrayed in this film. I don’t often discuss politics when reviewing films, but Eastwood uses Sully in a way to throw out his libertarian views in front of an audience in a way that I found disturbing. He frequently portrays the NTSB as being meddling government bureaucrats out to railroad an American hero, something that I noticed while watching it before even reading about what went on. It feels like he’s trying to turn a non-political moment into something partisan while praising an American hero. In other words, how dare the government investigate what a saint did.

    It’s another point in how this film feels a need to stuff in more story than was actually there. By his own admission Sully was doing his job, but Eastwood wants to turn that into a takedown of the NTSB. How ridiculous.