Starring: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney
Director: Clint Eastwood
Running Time: 96 mins
Synopsis: A recreation of the incredible events that led to the forced landing of a passenger plane carrying 155 souls in the Hudson river, turning its captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger into a national hero. However after the event he and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Eckhart) find themselves before a committee who believe that a return to the nearest airport was possible.
Despite what the cringe worthy tacked on subtitle would have you believe, the events of Jan 14th 2009 were not a miracle. They were the result of heroic and clever efforts of the pilot and co-pilot who were faced with an unexpected and potentially horrific scenario. Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger (a name that may well have been made up for this film but is genuinely real) is an unassuming, contemplative and rather reserved man, who is quite frankly a little dull as a movie lead. In fact that is a word that can be used to describe the majority of Clint Eastwood’s ode to heroism, dull!
Opening with a fabulously on the nose and quite frankly silly nightmare sequence, dreamt up by Hanks’ Sully of his plane going down in the streets of NYC. The parallels with 9/11 are palpable and in reality if it was not for Sully’s efforts something similar may have happened. But we as an audience know this, there is no need for a scene such as this to ram it down our throats. Eastwood follows this with events proceeding the crash, as Sully adjusts to what is a mild form of Post-Traumatic Stress, and the accusatory board meetings he finds himself in wherein a team of ‘experts’ believe that not only could he have returned to the nearest airport but that he may have deliberately beached his aircraft. Scenes such as these should be filled with righteous anger and indignation, how could anyone accuse this pilot with over 40 years experience and now an actual hero of being anything less than honest? But with Sully’s low-energy demeanour and Eastwood’s woefully flat direction, it is left to Aaron Eckhart’s First Officer (not to mention terrific moustache) to raise his voice and charge the scenes with some sort of dramatic weight.
What does work fabulously is the reenactments of the titular flight. Seen throughout the film from slightly different points of view, and edited into the flight aftermath plot with an almost Lost-like ‘whoosh’ sound effect. Eastwood comes into his own here, directing them with clear-eyed detail and undramatic focus. This approach works wonders, dropping you into the terror of it all with such clarity that it is extremely suspenseful. Watching the calm measured Sully weigh up his options and announce matter-of-factly “brace for impact” allows you to admire the immense professionalism and skill of this soon to be hero. The CGI is sparsely used and more effective for it. Moments after the impact of the passengers climbing over a wonderfully recreated downed jet, are effective in showcasing the confusion, fear and relief that they have survived. Spliced throughout the film in unshowy but clever ways, they are the films main highpoint.
The rest, sadly, is a bit of a slog. Even at a scant 96 mins you feel the immense padding by writer Todd Komarnicki of a story that probably could have been left to a thorough documentary. We know the outcome, everyone survived, Sully was not found to be anything less than an unlikely hero, and the world celebrated. This, however, does not make exciting cinema. Hanks does wonders though. Once again tapping into that everyman charm of his, his Sully just wants to do his job and go home to his wife and kids. All this hero worship sits uncomfortably with him, and Hanks plays it with quiet dignity. Upon faced with the idea that he could have returned to the airport, based on computer reconstructions, he conveys the inner turmoil of self-doubt with conviction. His later stubbornness that he made the right decision all along is believable and understandable resulting in our ability to ‘boo’ and ‘hiss’ at the safety board investigating him, after all all films need a villain. Similar to his role as Captain Phillips, Hanks excels at these grounded, pragmatic men in charge. And similar to that film there is a hospital scene wherein he barely contains his emotional relief, this time it is after finding out that all souls were accounted for, although perhaps less tear inducing than in Paul Greengrass’s masterpiece.
Eckhart more than matches Hanks, with a heart on sleeve performance. Although it is also unshowy and restrained, his sardonic wit and camaraderie with Sully makes him a warm presence, plus did I mention the moustache, it’s glorious. Laura Linney also shows up as Sully’s wife and in a poor directorial choice is seen only ever communicating to Sully via phone call. Unwise in that you never really feel their connection with each other, except in the words they speak. Not to mention the fact that Linney seems to cry in every other scene, wasting the talents of an otherwise terrific performer.
It is not the only poor decision Eastwood makes with Sully. Framing his main thrust of the story in a series of boardrooms, conference halls and hotel rooms, it is intensely uncinematic. The final panel meeting is made up of a number of pilot simulations, that we actually see in their entirety, 3 god damn times!! It is almost laughable in its dullness. Then we have the two oddly framed flashbacks to Sully’s youth, there for little reason other than to show his pilot skills and pad the running time just a little bit more. There is a lot to admire with the crash sequences and Eastwood’s championing of the experienced hard working individual who doesn’t seek applause just the knowledge that he has done his duty to the best of his abilities, but nothing can excuse the end scene. Closing out with a sly joke from Eckhart’s Jeff Skiles, it is abrupt, leaden and gives no sense of closure. It was if Eastwood had just got tired and decided “that’ll do”, it is no way to pay tribute to a real hero. Despite all this, you do somehow leave with an immense appreciation for the man and the rescue teams responsible for saving every life that day, perhaps it is here where the true miracle lies.
Verdict: Two fine central performances and some handsomely staged crash sequences just about make up for an otherwise flat and cumbersome film.