Saturday, September 24, 2016

Brief thoughts on Sully.

The world watched in stunned silence when Captain Chesley Sullenberger successfully landed a plane on the Hudson River, having suffered loss of altitude from bird strikes, and performed emergency procedures that saved the lives of 155 crew and passengers. People around the world were quick to label "Sully" a hero, a title that he was quick to shrug away, that he was simply doing his job. Obviously the story felt prime for a true life story based film, brought to us now by Clint Eastwood, that details the harrowing effects of his landing, and the thorough cross-examinations that followed.

On paper, this has all the makings to be a fantastic film; A legendary director backing it, one of the most beloved leading actors of all time, a story tied to a fascinating moment in history, and a sense of timeliness to draw interesting thematic retrospect. However, while not without its moments, I found Sully to be a bit of an underwhelming affair. The most glaring issue of the film is in practicing how to stretch out a 208 second event into a 96 minute feature, and while it can be commended by doing away with unnecessary filler and cutting right to the chase, that time that could have been spent fleshing out the many individuals tied to this event feels like any effort is barely scratching the surface. Sully clearly becomes more of an exercise valuing direction before its story, as Sully himself, and the many supporting players on display are relegated to simplified and one-note establishment, more recognizable as faces than they are as people.

Sully certainly has it better given the heavy focus on how he comes to grips with the event in the aftermath, as well as coping with bouts of PTSD reliving the crash landing, but even that doesn't help because it's as if we barely get to know who he is as a person. The film tries to get around this by showing glimpses of Sully developing his skills in the past, but even for a movie I just commended for not relying on heavy filler, this feels like blatant padding just to push the film past the ninety minute mark, as do the awkwardly placed long distance conversations between he and his wife, which results in poor Laura Linney practically gluing a phone to her ear. These moments could have been used to get to the root of Sully's personality, but is undercut by how quickly the film seems to casually disregard them. This isn't helped by the very fractured nature of the script, jumping sporadically between different moments of time in order to further stretch out the film. Not helped is the fact that the film succumbs to some form of Lincoln syndrome, in which it keeps going past what is clearly the most logical stopping point and concludes on an odd note, adding in a glorified piece of ending credits text and a snarky one-liner, and then the film abruptly stops.

However, let it not be said that for the time when it plays, Sully can be an engaging, at times even visceral sit. While the meat of the movie may be undercut by having released just a few years following the similarly themed Flight, when it comes to showcasing that central set-piece, Eastwood still proves a useful talent in staging harrowing sequences of intensity, and despite knowing full well the outcome of the emergency landing, the sense of tension and camaraderie between passengers and crew makes it a bit stirring regardless. Also, no matter how weakly defined Sully may be, the fact still remains that this is the type of role that Tom Hanks excels at, grounding the character as his always reliable everyman and intelligent thinker, and purely on his own brings so much more grounding and depth than it has on paper. This is even further aided by the fact that, despite the man always being called a hero, both he, and the film as well, make it a point that no one man was a hero that day, but that it was the combined efforts of numerous men and women that saved the day, with the film celebrating that level of spirit and unity in distress without feeling the need to unnaturally force it upon us. But at the end of the day, Sully is merely par for the course by biographic standards, a thoroughly average and unspectacular entry in Eastwood's career.

**1/2 / *****

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