“You can accomplish anything if you’re never in a hurry.”
I genuinely fear for the future of biopic cinema, especially when they’re now made so soon after the actual incident that there’s barely enough time for accumulation on an event’s dust jacket. We’re moving from fine aged wines to those of the cheap box variety, and at fault is the information age we live in. Everything is known, everything is constant, everything is shared. How can you depict a compelling story when all of the minute details have already been absorbed by the eyeballs of the masses? And so is the hurdle that Sully cannot leap over despite its best efforts. Clint Eastwood’s latest is fine and watchable and even a little gripping in spots, but is utterly devoid of purpose. What justification was there to making this film? I’m not sure there is one.
It’s almost hard to describe the movie as whole because it is so difficult to understand or know Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) on his own terms. Hanks is center stage, commanding the screen with the presence of a veteran, practically delivering a masterclass in individual showmanship. He could’ve been the film’s only face and it’d be just as successful, maybe even a bit more tasteful. But we still never get to know Sully as a man; rather, he’s framed as a pilot of 40+ years. Sully loves to fly, and yet the two wasteful flashbacks depicting him in the sky don’t justify his passion for the air. Even worse, while an obviously kind and endearing man – at least in Hanks’ embodiment – Sully has no personality. We see everything that he does and how he goes about doing it, but we don’t know why. For a film so wrapped up in heroic behavior, its blood runs as cold as the Hudson River in January. Sully has no motivation.
A better film with a broader scope would have been called The Miracle on the Hudson. That title just echoes the classics of golden era moviemaking. But this is Sully – up close and personal – in a demanding role effortlessly charged by the patience of Tom Hanks. He’s quiet, observed, stoic. I think we regretfully take his talent for granted because we’re so used to the high bar he sets. Just watch his eyes; they flutter and blink and move at the pace of a hummingbird’s wing speed. And while unnatural and explicitly forced, it serves the story so that we can try to understand Captain Sullenberger’s state of mind. Few can match him. Sully is a movie that’s dialed in on the present, and with a better narrative structure would have pumped even the slightest sense of anticipation into the already noted result. Eastwood desperately needed to lead us towards the unknown. Instead, we’re given an overlong (at a mere 96 minutes), repetitive, indulgent tour of hero worship.
Nobody feels real besides the venerated Sully. His co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) is merely there to provide quips. His wife Lorraine (Laura Linney) only comes into the frame during a handful of detached phone calls. Why waste them on such one-note roles? What I still can’t wrap my head around is the telling of this tale. My obsessive compulsive tendencies have a keen eye for detail, and that eye made Sully infuriating to watch. The film begins with a dream of crashing into the New York City skyline, then hops between phone exchanges and bland investigations into the forced landing. We see the plane sequence – thrilling at first, and occasionally featuring impressive camerawork despite some awful CGI – from three different angles. What Eastwood needed to do was break the flight into three chapters: preparation, liftoff, landing. That would have built escalated tension that carried over into the troubled psychology of Sully’s uncomfortable embrace for his actions, as well as provide a proper ending. Rather than demand critical thinking or contemplation, Sully only inspires modest moxie. You can’t feel the emotional toll or physical pain of a crash with this much padding and protective gear.
“I guess I’m having trouble separating reality from whatever the hell this is.”
Rating: 2 out of 5