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Overall Rating

Awesome: 18.18%
Worth A Look72.73%
Just Average: 9.09%
Pretty Crappy: 0%
Sucks: 0%

1 review, 5 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"Sudden Impact"
4 stars

The trouble with making a film about Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and the miraculous feat that he pulled off on January 15, 2009 when he successfully glided his completely disabled plane onto the waters of the Hudson River without losing a single one of the 155 lives on board is that the actual event occurred over the span of a couple of minutes and even if one included the passengers being plucked from the water and taken to shore by the rescue boats, a moment-by-moment recreation of the entire event would hardly fill out even the most modest of feature film running times. Therefore, anyone wanting to make such a film would have to figure out a way to expand the story beyond the details of the heroics in a way that would still interest people who are only there to see a big-screen recreation of the famous event. “Sully,” the latest directorial effort from the seemingly inexhaustible Clint Eastwood, tries to do this and while the resulting film is certainly well made and contains a strong central performance from Tom Hanks in the central role, the screenplay’s attempts to further flesh out the story are often uneven and occasionally kind of frustrating.

At first glance, it seems as if the film kicks things off with a recreation of the event but after a few moments, it becomes clear that what we are seeing is a nightmarish vision of what might have happened if Sullenberger (Hanks) had elected to go by procedure and attempt a return to the airport—a nightmarish vision of airborne carnage over the crowded streets of New York that may seem a bit questionable for a movie opening the same weekend as the 15th anniversary of 9/11. After Sullenberger awakens from this nightmare, it is revealed that we are in the immediate aftermath of the crash in which the entire world is celebrating him as a hero for his actions and everyone is clamoring for a piece of him—indeed, every time a television is turned on in the film, it is broadcasting news of the crash and the likes of Katie Couric and David Letterman are clamoring to hear his story. In fact, the only person who doesn’t seem to regard Sully as a hero of the highest order is Sully himself—to him, he was simply doing his job and even having done that to the best of his abilities, he is still nevertheless haunted by the events and what he might have done differently.

As it turns out, despite miraculously getting the plane down without getting anyone killed, Sully and co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) still found themselves the focus of an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. According to standard airline protocol, Sully should have returned to either LaGuardia Airport or the nearby Teterboro Airport to attempt a landing there after an errant flock of birds took out both of the plane’s engines simultaneously. A computer analysis even suggests that one of the supposedly dead engines still had enough power to make such a return possible. By crashing into the Hudson (“Forced water landing,” Sully tersely replies whenever the word “crash” is deployed), according to them, Sully actually recklessly endangered the lives of the passengers, a decision that could have enormous consequences for both the airline’s insurance company and for Sully himself, whose entire career—one that saw him flying for more than 40 years and transporting more than a million passengers without a single hitch before this incident—now rests on the actions he undertook over the space of a couple of minutes one January morning. Sully is certain that he made the right choice but how can one possibly submit intuition as a defense for their actions, especially in the face of a number of computer simulations that suggest that he was indeed wrong?

In bringing “Sully” to the screen, Eastwood finds himself taking a look at our notions of heroism and the strange pressures that they can bring upon those whose actions have been deemed heroic, a theme that he has explored in such past efforts as “A Perfect World,” “Flags of Our Fathers” and “American Sniper.” His approach is as terse and lacking in hyperbole as Sullenberger himself was in regards to his actions—things are cut so close to the bone here that Eastwood, whose films have been getting longer and more drawn out over the years, manages to bring the entire thing to a end in a career-low 96 minutes. He does an excellent job in the early scenes involving the NTSB investigation in regards to deploying a lot of highly technical material in an easy-to-understand manner that allows viewers to have a better idea of what to focus on when he finally does get around to recreating the event in its entirety, first as it happened and later, and perhaps even more chillingly, during a final hearing in which the investigators listen to the cabin recording of the entire incident. Eastwood is also aided immeasurably by a strong and sure performance by Tom Hanks that doesn’t grab for the big melodramatic moments and is all the better for it.

The problem with “Sully” is that the script by Todd Komarnicki is kind of a mess for the most part. To be fair, the basic structure of starting off with the investigation and holding off on the full crash recreation, the reason why most people will want to see the film in the first place, is not a bad idea. The trouble is that since there isn’t that much of a story there—not to mention the fact that everyone going into the film knows exactly how it all turns out—he has to figure out a way to stretch the narrative out and those are the moments in which the film stumbles. We get a couple of brief flashbacks to Sullenberger’s early days as a pilot that might have formed the basis of an interesting film but which feel here like deleted scenes that were stuck back into the story. There are also a number of scenes with Sullenberger making a series of awkward phone calls to his increasingly frantic wife (Laura Linney) that simply do not work at all—not only do all of her scenes appear to have been shot in a single day, it feels as if they were written and conceived during that same day as well. There are other bad moments as well—there is a barroom scene that is especially lousy—and while watching them, you get the sneaky suspicion that Eastwood grabbed the first draft of the script and decided to shoot it instead of doing further work to the screenplay that might have eliminated such rough patches and made for a smoother and more satisfying film experience.

That said, “Sully” is still Eastwood’s liveliest work in a while and I vastly prefer it, despite its obvious flaws, to the likes of “American Sniper” and not just because Chesley Sullenberger comes far closer to my notion of what a hero is than Chris Kyle. It has a fine performance by Tom Hanks—one that is so effectively low-key that some people may not immediately realize just how good it is—and several strong moments, including a hair-raising recreation of the incident that ranks right up there with the crash scenes from “Knowing” and “Flight.” If only someone had taken another pass or two at the screenplay to work out the clunky moments, “Sully” might have become the great film that it suggests at its best moments. It is still worth a look—though perhaps not if you need to board a plane anytime soon—but it clearly could have been so much more.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=30284&reviewer=389
originally posted: 09/08/16 15:26:47
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2016 Telluride Film Festival For more in the 2016 Telluride Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/23/17 Luisa Well made movie. Very moving! 4 stars
12/31/16 American Pie Good production value but the story is drawn out 3 stars
10/09/16 orpy Moving...something to feel good about for a change. 4 stars
10/02/16 Timothy Killoran Great Movie! Just give Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood there Oscars now. 5 stars
9/28/16 Angel Baby Araiza Truely inspiring movie 5 stars
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  09-Sep-2016 (PG-13)
  DVD: 06-Dec-2016


  DVD: 06-Dec-2016

Directed by
  Clint Eastwood

Written by
  Todd Komarnicki

  Tom Hanks
  Anna Gunn
  Laura Linney
  Aaron Eckhart
  Jerry Ferrara
  Chris Bauer

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