Sully is a technically well-made movie that suffers from a stilted script that seems to have a political ax to grind.
Directed by Clint Eastwood, it tells the story of the “Miracle on the Hudson,” when on a cold January morning in 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 hit a flock of geese immediately after takeoff, causing a catastrophic dual-engine failure and forcing the plane to make an emergency water landing on New York’s Hudson River. The landing saved all passengers and crew aboard the flight and the plane’s captain, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, was hailed as a hero for his calm and decisive actions.
Based in part on Sullenberger’s own memoir of the events, Highest Duty, the film has a scattered structure in which the portrayal of the actual flight and landing don’t occur until the second act. Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki are more concerned with dramatizing the ensuing investigation of the accident by the National Transit Safety Board and it’s affect on Captain Sullenberger, played by Tom Hanks, who’s pretty much as good in the role as he is in everything else.
This is an interesting choice, albeit not a very good one. Sully bends over backwards to needlessly gratify how perfect Captain Sullenberger’s actions were and how it’s wrong for any investigation into the accident to even take place. A pair of no-nonsense investigators for the NTSB (Anna Gunn and Mike O’Malley) act as the primary antagonists of the film despite the fact they’re just doing their jobs, a phrase Captain Sullenberger uses himself in the movie to describe his actions in landing the
plane on the Hudson.
The rest of the supporting characters don’t have much else to work with other than to glorify Captain Sullenberger and barely exist as unique characters despite all being real people. Laura Linney as Lorraine Sullenberger is confined to one setting and only speaks with her husband by phone. Aaron Eckhart as co-captain Jeff Skiles speaks mostly in Dad Jokes and seems content to let his titanic mustache act for him.
Eastwood makes the deliberate choice to spend at least some time with the passengers of Flight 1549, and it’s here that the movie is at its best but also its most frustrating. We only get to see just enough of some of the passengers to see how one-dimensional they are. From a technical aspect, Eastwood does a sound job establishing the size of the plane before the crash and while it is sinking into the Hudson and makes sure to keep the audience on edge as the passengers are freezing in the water, waiting for rescue.
Suffice it to say, Sully is a typical Clint Eastwood movie: technically well-made and possibly crowd-pleasing, yet suffers from questionable politics and a weak script. Sometimes even the most skilled captains can’t land a spruce goose.