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Sully Review: Tom Hanks & Clint Eastwood Fly at a Low Altitude

By Julian Roman — September 8th, 2016

Clint Eastwood's adaptation of the "Miracle on the Hudson" isn't quite as riveting as hoped. Sully is fairly acted by the players, but runs short with a few scenes that come off as contrived. Also, and this is purely my emotional point of view as a New Yorker, imagined scenes of the plane crashing into the city invoke sad memories of 9/11. That's the point of course, to relay how close the miracle was to a horrendous tragedy. The release date so close to 9/11 is a marketing decision that plays on those feelings. Strikes me as a bit cheap, although the point is true.

On January 15, 2009, U.S. Airways Flight 1549 was hit by a double bird strike shortly after leaving La Guardia Airport. With both engines lost, Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) pulled off an unparalleled feat in aviation history. Landing the plane on the Hudson River with zero casualties. The crash, or water landing, as Sully politely reminds us throughout the film; as well as the rescue operations was broadcast live to a mesmerized world.

Sully intersperses the events of that fateful day with the NTSB review of the incident shortly thereafter. While Sully deals with the post traumatic stress, he's hailed as a hero and media darling. But the government and airline insurance company have an alternative view. Simulations show that the plane could have made it back to the airport. The thrust of the film is Sully's remembrance of the landing, while dealing with naysayer bureaucrats.

Coming from Warner Bros., Sully is based on the book "Highest Duty" by Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow. I can't speak to how close the film resembles the source material, but I find it very difficult to believe the government would be so adversarial towards the pilots. There had to be a thorough review of the incident, but it's a stretch to think the pencil pushers would not have recognized the crew as astonishingly heroic. The fact that everyone survived is a testament to their skill and performance under pressure. The film needed some kind of antagonist element, but gets too theatrical in the delivery.

Clint Eastwood's directing style is always measured. There needed to be a few quicker beats here to enliven the pace. It's a bit of a strange dichotomy. On one hand the flight scenes are intense and realistic, while the investigation seems like a made for TV court room drama. Then we have the long distance communication between Sully and his wife (Laura Linney). I didn't feel the gravity of near loss in their relationship. The acting is okay, but the editing and staging are oddly cold.

Sully is an apt, but not outstanding portrayal of a miraculous event. There's no doubt to the heroism of Chesley Sullenberger and his crew that day. Hanks plays Sully as modest and humble, a seasoned pilot who drew an ace when his hand was called. While the film doesn't fare well on the aftermath, the flight of U.S. Airways 1549 is certainly worth the price of admission to see. Be forewarned of the 9/11 type crash scenes. They did make me uneasy.

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