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Sully (2016) Review

"A strong story with great performances"

by Steve Pulaski

On January 15, 2009, US Airways pilots Captain Chelsey Sullenberger, known more commonly as "Sully," and First Officer Jeffery Skiles took off from LaGuardia Airport just like any other flight. By now, Sully had already trafficked well over a million people through the skies over the course of forty-two years, so what's another plane-full at this point? Not even five minutes after takeoff, however, a flock of birds fly into the front of the plane, destroying both engines on the massive Airbus A320. When the engines idle and no airport is in conceivable range, Sully makes the decision to land on the brutally cold waters of the Hudson River, on a day when wind-chills are subzero. All 155 passengers and the entire flight-crew survive; Sully and Jeffery have pulled off a miracle.

The real hell for the two uncommonly brave men comes shortly after the forced river-landing (not crash), as their lives and privacy have been breached by a slew of reporters and around-the-clock media coverage that both show no signs of ending. In addition, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is deeply concerned with the circumstances of the plane's landing, as well as the safety risks and imminent insurance nightmare that inevitably occurred with such an unheard of landing. Restless nights in expensive hotel-rooms and unending anxiety plague the men as they are both away from their families and must stand before the NTSB during their trial to see if they can continue to be pilots, or have 208 seconds completely dismantle their flying careers forever.

Clint Eastwood's Sully works to detail this kind of undeniable heroism, not by tinseling the fact nor reminding us that, had this not been a true story, we'd all be calling this film incredulous, but on the souls that had to suffer through the pervasive reporting and imminent trial. Sully is played by Tom Hanks, complimented by white hair and mustache desperately trying to age the now sixty-year-old, instantly recognizable leading man. At times, Hanks is indeed unrecognizable; the facial expressions he boasts throughout the film appear pensive and sometimes empty, despite you knowing that thoughts are racing through his mind. Hanks works best in these kind of emotionally ambiguous roles, such as The Terminal and most recently Bridge of Spies.

Sully
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Cast Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney
Release Date 9 September 2016
Steve's Grade: B+

Jeffrey Skiles is played by Aaron Eckhart, a great character actor, whom you might miss in some great supporting performances because you're so distracted by the equally strong leading performances. Simply put, Eckhart does some great work here, providing pleasantly nuanced comic relief, and because he occupies a great deal of time alongside Hanks, it's nice to see his talents taking center-stage.

Eastwood and his ace-cinematographer Tom Stern make sure to capture the film's tone of uncertainty with consistent grayness in look, as well as through doomy, overcast skies. What could've been putrid and visually ugly winds up being quite complimentary to the film's overall tone in a way that doesn't find itself distracting from the overall story at hand. Furthermore, screenwriter Todd Komarnicki, working off of Sully and Jeffrey Zaslow's book Highest Duty, makes sure to assert the importance of Sully's mental state throughout the course of this film. We are always hyper-focused on our titular character, as we see his difficulty to formulate sentences and cogent thoughts to his wife (Laura Linney) on the phone, as well as struggle to muster a smirk when he is welcomed with open arms at the local tavern. This is a character-centered film disguised as one of spectacle and plot-constraints.

Sully does admittedly find itself burdened with the usual issues that happen when Eastwood sits in the director's chair. For example, the film's cohesion and pacing always feels a bit off, with Sully and Jeffery's miraculous landing being spliced in the middle of the film amidst a flashback while Sully is on the phone with his wife. The offsetting of certain events can only do so much to such a strong story with great performances and that only makes for momentary bumps in the road. A strong, reliable cast and crew, as well as a tight-knit, character-centered screenplay, make Sully truly effective.

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