The wonderful Tom Hanks stars as ‘Sully’ Sullenberger in Clint Eastwood’s new film, Sully. Sully tells the true story of a U.S. Airlines flight forced to land in the Hudson River in New York in 2009 after the plane hit a flock of birds that knocked out both engines. All 155 people on board survived the forced landing thanks to the skill of the pilot (Sully), but the powers-that-be think Sully should have flown the plane back to LaGuardia Airport, and they have computer simulations that prove it would have been possible.
Sully and his copilot (Jeff Sikes, played by Aaron Eckhardt) are convinced that they couldn’t have made it back to the airport with no thrust and find themselves ‘on trial’ for making a dangerous decision. The hearing is the focus of the film, which has numerous flashbacks, including the details of the scary flight itself. Meanwhile, Laura Linney plays Sully’s concerned wife, waiting at home while Sully tries to defend his decision.
Sully is a well-made film telling an interesting story, but it seems to be so intent on being low-key and unsensational, with such understated performances by Hanks and Eckhardt, that I found it difficult to get fully engaged. It’s okay to have the focus on Sully and the anxious self-doubt that grabs him after the landing, and I’m generally a fan of low-key unsensational films. And Hanks, as always, is great (though playing the very stoic Sully doesn’t give him a wide range to play with), with the other actors fine in support. The cinematography is also strong. But something was missing for me. Despite its unique structure and top-notch production values, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was watching a ‘by-the-numbers’ made-for-TV true story. Or maybe it was just too Hollywood for me.
So I think the critics were too kind on this one, especially when they talk about the suspense they found in Sully's plane landing despite the viewers knowing the outcome. I felt none of that suspense myself; the only suspense I felt concerned the results of the hearing.
Nevertheless, Sully is worth watching and gets a solid ***, which is three stars more than Eastwood’s last film (the awful American Sniper). My mug is up.