Cocktails And Movies Review: ”Sully” – A biopic that soars in some respects, but has its wings clipped in others.

by Mike Reyes

Clint Eastwood’s latest biopic, Sully, is another fine example of the director’s biopic prowess, but doesn’t rise above a certain level of brilliance.

brody-clint-eastwoods-sully-existential-burden-1200Despite being the man that revived the Western genre for all to know and love in the modern era, Clint Eastwood is a director who loves to tell a story about people. Focusing on notable and intriguing people, be they real life figures or fictional creations, Eastwood’s bread and butter is showing us one person’s life through the lens of the experiences they have. And he’s given us plenty of those films, for better or worse, past the last couple of decades. While Sully is a step up from the dull and unfocused American Sniper, shades of those mistakes still color a film that showcases Tom Hanks’ most restrained performance. 

The ”Miracle on the Hudson” was an event that everyone remembers and heralds well. With Captain Chesley ”Sully” Sullenberger and his crew shepherding the 155 souls aboard through a successful forced water landing and evacuation, the story of US Airways Flight 1549 was an unprecedented event. Yet, the side of the story the public never really got was the ensuing NTSB investigation, as well as the intense doubt and fear that Captain Sullenberger suffered during said investigation. Heroism, hero worship, and even the media are all examined in this film about an ordinary man become an extraordinary figure.

 

Let’s get the negatives out of the way first, as I really did like Sully, but have some 747-sized bones to pick with its choices. The narrative structure of Sully is probably the greatest liability that Clint Eastwood’s film boasts, as the film is a non-linear mess when it comes to telling its story. For perspective, the film starts with the NTSB investigation, then flashes back to the incident, only to come back to the present and interrupt with flashbacks periodically. While the flashbacks do serve a purpose, the story of Captain Sullenberger’s life would have been better suited by a more straightforward portrayal. 

Also, the added level of drama that writer Todd Komarnicki injects into the investigation comes off as false. This especially rings true when you consider the criticisms that members of the NTSB have with the film’s portrayal of their rigorous investigation, which didn’t completely happen as shown on screen. One gets why they’d do that, as this is, after all, a movie. But there are other areas and methods that could more effectively create the drama needed to make Sully more of a spectacle, and the film certainly uses some of them to its full advantage.

Case in point is Clint Eastwood’s decision to film most of Sully using the IMAX camera system. Not only does this lend to an absolutely sharper image, but if you’re actually seeing the film in an IMAX auditorium, it ups the scale of the action on screen. Most importantly, the large format presentation shows off the film’s best moments, which are the recreations of US Airways Flight 1549’s harrowing forced water landing. We see both the intimate, ”Hollywood” version of events, as well as an entire recreation that focuses more on the sounds of the event, while the flight recorder data is played for the investigators. It’s in the actual recreation of the moment and its immediate aftermath, in a no-frills, mostly melodrama free portrayal that really shines in Sully.

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That is, if you’re talking about anything but Tom Hanks’ stoic performance as Captain Sullenberger himself. While the film has assembled a fantastic cadre of co-stars, from Aaron Eckhart and Laura Linney to Mike O’Malley and Anna Gunn, Sully rests on the shoulders of Hanks’ performance as the captain, and with good reason. With every action and gesture, Hanks shows us the Sully that the public knew, as well as the man behind the persona. Never delving into histrionics, or false outrage, his pain is palpable – but it’s never a liability to his performance. If there’s any good to come from Sully, 90% of it surely comes from Tom Hanks. Though, to be fair, this film’s also going to remind you that we need more Aaron Eckhart vehicles out there, and not the schlocky horror numbers he’s been convinced to take. His portrayal of co-pilot Jeff Skiles injects much needed grounding, and humor, to the proceedings at hand.

Again, I did like Sully. I just wish it was a better movie, as all involved deserved a better vessel to sail out on, and there are clear signs that it could have done just that. While the film will ride on the backs of the older voting population to various award nominations, this is still a rather tepid appetizer to the litany of awards fare that will be bombarding our eyes in the coming months.

My Rating: 3/5