By: Muneeb Arshid
Apollo 13. The DaVinci Code series (Sigh!!). Saving Private Ryan. Captain Phillips. What do all these films have in common? Well, let me just tell you that right now. It’s the inherent “hero complex” of America’s favourite actor, Mr Tom Hanks. Tom Hanks has seemingly decided that the only roles he wants to take on are those that allow him to portray an American hero. With Bridge of Spies last year and the upcoming Inferno joining his latest venture, Sully, in 2016, that “hero hypothesis” certainly seems to become more and more a fact.
Sully is the very recent, very true story of the “Miracle on the Hudson” where US Airways captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) and First Officer Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) successfully crash landed their Airbus A320 into the frozen Hudson River shortly after takeoff. The plane had ingested a flock of birds into both engines just after taking off from LaGuardia Airport in New York City. The bird ingestion resulted in double engine failure and forced the crew to make the grave decision to land in the Hudson River, after calculating that the stalled out plane would not be able to return back to LaGuardia or the alternatives at Teterboro or Newark Airports. However, the film actually follows the events post-crash and how Sully and Skiles were having to deal with the media frenzy along with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation. I will add this full disclosure that I’m a massive(!) aviation enthusiast with decent enough knowledge on how planes are flown. Having watched countless films and shows about air crashes, I feel it puts me in a position where I can view the facts of the film and how they relate to the story told by director Clint Eastwood and co.
The film follows Sully as he tries to cope with the aftermath of the crash, dealing with the media, the overzealous investigation by the NTSB as well as the onset of PTSD with Sully imagining the plane crashing into Manhattan instead of the Hudson River. Yeah! Imagine that, a movie being released so close to 9/11 and showing us dream sequences of planes flying into buildings. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the sweet, senile mind of the great Clint Eastwood. There should definitely be an age limit to people working in Hollywood before we’re left with the mindless filmmaking of old people. Well, at least old people who have publicly talked to an empty chair live on stage. Here’s the problem with this film, and there are a couple. Forget the weird dream sequences, the structure of the film itself is all over the place. For an event that is so widely remembered, it would be an obvious choice to start off with the entire crash sequence, and then follow up with the rest of the subsequent investigations and aftermath. However, Eastwood has chosen to introduce the film a few hours after the crash and for a while, there was a point where I thought that we were just going to get this Tom Hanks special. The crash itself comes in the middle of Act 2, and actually is depicted in the film twice, both instances triggered by Sully watching a clip on the TV. Once we do get to the crash action set piece, the endurance of the entirely monotonous first act allows for no sense of thrill or suspense in the crash sequence. It also doesn’t help that other TV shows that focus on air crash investigations has done this formula much better.
Second, we’ve got the dream sequences which are wholly unnecessary, especially considering the fact that Sully spends the entire movie as if he were in a daze. The dream sequences were not required to let us know that Sully isn’t in the right frame of mind following the crash landing yet was unnecessary filler. Oh, and do we really need more images of planes crashing into buildings (albeit in someone’s mind) around the time of the terrible tragedy of 2001? No! But hey, it’s good ol’ Clint Eastwood, and who are we to question his frame of mind, right?
Third, what is going on with the insane and stupid depiction of the NTSB investigators? Each of them are wholly convinced that Sully purposefully crashed the plane into the Hudson River and are maliciously going after him in that regard. I get it, some of you think that they are a government agency and they tend to do that. I’ll leave the conspiracy theory aside and say that this crash was the first of its kind. Never before had there been a double engine failure so quickly after departure and no airline pilot had ever been trained as to the correct landing procedure regarding such an incident. The NTSB and aviation enthusiasts wholly believe that aviation safety is something that has gotten infinitely better because of the numerous tragedies that have occurred in history. That after each tragedy, the airline industry learns and implements something that exponentially increases the safety record. If that is the case, why is a government agency being portrayed as being aggressively hostile towards someone that saved the lives of EVERYONE on board and not portrayed as being inquisitive and focused on figuring out a way to prevent similar incidents from happening. From someone invested in this field, I cannot agree that the investigators would have taken such a malicious approach towards Sully.
The grade that I gave this film would be much lower had it not been for the very convincing performance by Tom Hanks. But I guess, it’s more of what we should expect from Mr Hanks, who has become a regular with these types of roles. I don’t know how the real Sully actually dealt with the emotions after the crash, but Hanks is very convincing in portraying the range of emotions that “film” Sully goes through post-crash. Supporting performances, however, are quite weak with the only notable decent performances coming from Aaron Eckhart as Sully’s co-pilot Jeff Skiles and Laura Linney as Sully’s wife Lorraine. He does seem a little over the top in his role, but there is a level of conviction for the most part in his performance that elevates its quality, especially noticeable when Skiles has to verbally defend Sully from the abuses of the NTSB. Oh, speak of the devil, the NTSB performances. What I’ll say is that Mike O’Malley and Jamey Sheridan were very good at being actual sh*theads in the film. If this was Eastwood’s attempt at dehumanizing Sully, it absolutely backfired as I had a sense of hatred building for the NTSB characters through the film and NOT Sully. Maybe that was the end goal, to make us hate them in which case I applaud them.
Once we actually do make it to the airplane flying sequence, we get shots of the cockpit taking up the majority of screentime, with panning cinematic shots when the plane is flying over the George Washington Bridge. It pleased me that the filmmakers did, in fact, use the correct aircraft (they thankfully didn’t mix up Airbus with a Boeing plane, for example). There were some slight anachronisms with regards to liveries of other airplanes where some of them are incorrect for a movie set in 2009.
For someone who is a major aviation buff, Sully was definitely one of the most anticipated films for myself. What we ended up receiving, however, was a massive disappointment. Even in a 96-minute runtime, the film feels oddly bloated and is highlighted only by a very convincing Tom Hanks performance in his now prototypical “hero” role.
Sully receives a grade of D (5.3/10) from the TFL crew.