Although I didn’t grow up a fan of Clint Eastwood (the first time I even heard his name was, honestly, as a joke in the latter two films of the Back to the Future trilogy), I was at the very least aware of his pedigree & stature amongst the acting world’s elite, and as I aged into adulthood I soon realized he encompassed far more than a gunslinger from the Dollars trilogy & The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, as well as his gritty turn as Dirty Harry. Upon discovering his accomplishments as a director, I found myself easing into a casual viewing of said efforts, quickly realizing that movies like 1992’s Unforgiven were highly uninteresting and 1997’s Absolute Power didn’t interest me at all. Luckily, the dawn of the millennium brought films like 2003’s Mystic River & 2004’s Million Dollar Baby, both of which I enjoyed and served to establish a directing style that would remain present in his films from then on (more on that later). Though I never could bring myself to watch 2008’s Changeling or Gran Torino, and 2010’s unusual Hereafter along with 2011’s terrible J. Edgar failed to capture my attention, 2009’s Invictus injected some much-needed energy into the director’s output, while 2014 gave audiences the one-two punch of the (in my opinion) fantastic Jersey Boys & American Sniper.
Continuing his biopic trend is his latest work, Sully, a quick, 96-minute look at Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the now-infamous former pilot who, nearly eight years ago, successfully landed US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River following a mid-air bird strike that decimated both engines shortly after takeoff. Though his actions saved 155 lives & widely branded the man a hero, Sully presents that same man coping with the effects of PTSD, as well as an inquisitive NTSB attempting to determine if the intrepid captain was correct in his decision to ditch in the water without trying to land at any nearby airport. If found to have demonstrated pilot error, both Sully’s reputation-and career-would effectively end.
Anyone who knows the full story will know that the NTSB angle presented in Sully isn’t entirely true, but rather exists as an attempt by Eastwood to create something of a villain for the film, extend the runtime and further flesh out the story from a conventional, Dateline NBC-esque tale of a dramatic emergency landing. Speaking of dramatics, though the well-written script does contain sporadic moments that attempt to convey real emotion, such as a part when an overwhelmed hotel manager embraces Sully immediately following the incident, some (like the latter) come off as cheap, and though said script also tosses out some light humor so as to elevate the mood from time to time, it tends to fall a tad flat, including a scene when a makeup artist touching up Sully during a media interview gushes to him about the fact that her mother is single. Cute, but ultimately unnecessary.
Furthermore, few of Eastwood’s films since, say, Mystic River, serve as excellent examples of his now-signature style more clearly than Sully-once again, what Sully presents the audience with is a washed out-looking movie that seemingly feels unfinished. The grey color scheme is extremely pronounced, the score is almost nonexistent, and no amount of stellar acting can improve these elements. For some reason, this is simply how Clint Eastwood likes his movies to appear.
Luckily, Eastwood picked a mostly-respectable cast for this average film, with the reliable Tom Hanks inhabiting the title role seamlessly, though one might wonder how many other qualified actors could have played the part just as well. Aaron Eckhart again proves how easily he can fill out a supporting cast as Sully’s First Officer Jeffrey Skiles, while Laura Linney, as Sully’s beleaguered wife Lorraine, mainly exists to have tense conversations over the phone with our hero while pacing about her kitchen. At least Michael Rapport’s here, briefly showing up as a bartender with a Fuggedaboutit accent no one could do better.
Overall, Sully manages to balance out the good and the bad-for every weak moment, there’s one that succeeds, and the plane crash sequence itself, which we see from two slightly different perspectives, is handled admirably, with realistic effects and an appropriate amount of tension. Though the NTSB “bad guy” plot may come off as somewhat inaccurate and ultimately run-of-the-mill, I suppose I can forgive Eastwood for the sake of a slightly longer film and stronger story, even if that may come at the cost of some directorial integrity. In many ways, Sully can be seen as a spiritual cousin to Robert Zemeckis’ 2012 Denzel Washington-helmed Flight, a highly underrated film with a highly similar premise.
Worth a viewing? Sure, why not. Make Sully proud. Make Clint Eastwood happy. Or just watch Flight. At least it’s less grey.