It is interesting to
compare Clint Eastwood's true-life story Sully with Robert Zemeckis'
extremely similarly-plotted 2012 film Flight. (I don't know if
Flight was supposed to be inspired by and loosely based on Sullenberger,
but I wouldn't be surprised.)
In both films, a
long-tenured airline pilot – Tom Hanks as "Miracle on the Hudson" Captain
"Sully" Sullenberger and Denzel Washington as the fictional Whip Whittaker
(see, even the names are similar) – are able, through skill and a bit of
luck, to relatively safely crash land an out-of-control jet airliner, saving
their passengers and crews (well, Whittaker lost five people) from horrific
The pilots are welcomed
back as heroes, but neither feels much like a hero, both imagining the
myriad of ways that their story could have turned out differently. Then the
airlines, insurance companies and the NTSB (National Transportation Safety
Board) come out of the woodwork trying to prove that the "hero" pilot may be
responsible for making the crash worse than it may have been.
is the much darker film of the two, giving its hero some
serious foibles and vices, and by quite honestly allowing its hero to be a
much less likable character.
Flight is probably the more realistic film, Sully is a
much more enjoyable film. Ironically, right after director Clint Eastwood
ranted in his recent interview with Esquire magazine, "That's the
kiss-ass generation we're in right now. We're really in a pussy generation.
Everybody's walking on eggshells," he has made the much softer, safer, more
politically correct version of the story.Strangely, though, even
Which is not necessarily
a bad thing. In fact it may be a good thing. Either way, it appears to be
much more true to the personality of its lead character.
The most appealing thing
about Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, even back at the height of his
2009 fame, was that he simply did not see himself as a hero. He was a
modest man who was made uncomfortable by the worldwide adoration. He was
just a guy doing his job. When he lost both of his engines and realized
that he could not get the plane safely back to an airport, instinct and
years of training and led him to land the plane in the middle of a river,
knowing that it would be the most likely way to save the passengers and even
bystanders on the ground. His co-pilot, crew, even the passengers, all
played just as big a part in what happened.
This humble streak makes
Tom Hanks a natural to play the role, and Hanks nails it. He gets down
Sully's look, mannerisms, tones. It's the best performance by this multiple
Oscar winner in at least several years.
The rest of the cast is
also terrific, though with the exception of Aaron Eckhart as Sully's
long-time co-pilot, most of the roles are a bit under-fleshed out. Laura
Linney as Sully's wife, alone at home, is particularly wasted. Sometimes
Eastwood stacks the decks in the story – in particular Mike O'Malley's NTSB
executive seems almost cartoonishly evil in his ambition to disprove Sully's
However, this is a truly
stirring story that doesn't need a lot of bells and whistles. If you don't
choke up a little when you watch the New York ferries chugging down the
river to save the passengers of the plane, you have no heart.
is certainly Eastwood's most enjoyable film in several
years (probably since Gran Torino in 2008), and evades the director's
recent tendency towards overlong, dull features.
Some may say that
Eastwood was "walking on eggshells" in making Sully simply a
feel-good film rather than really examining the darker corners and crevices
of the story. Personally, I'm glad that he didn't. Sometimes it's okay to
have heroes, without knocking them off their pedestals. Once upon a time
Eastwood knew that. I'm glad to see he still remembers.
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