Monday, September 12, 2016


You can feel Clint Eastwood straining to turn a feel-good story into a prestige picture – or, really, any kind of coherent movie – while watching the curiously unsatisfying “Sully.”

With only 208 seconds of action to work from, Eastwood starts the movie a year after the landing on the Hudson, flashes back to the morning of the flight, doubles back to the NTSB investigation, depicts the landing, cuts to the day after, depicts the landing a second time. No overarching structure emerges. “Sully” feels like the script that Monkey #3,478,526 might have typed out using the given elements. Why it was chosen, who knows?

Tom Hanks – whose fundamental decency made him the ideal movie Everyman in the 90s - plays US Airways pilot Chesley Sullenberger the way he’s played every role for a long time now. The mischievous twinkle in his eye from 1988’s joyful “Big” has been replaced with so much rectitude he comes off as unapproachable, not human. (His reaction to being hugged by a hotel manager shortly after the rescue does not much differ from that of a vacuum-cleaning robot.) Aaron Eckhart, as the co-pilot, also spends about 90% of the runtime in a rictus clench. Laura Linney is softer than usual as Sully’s wife Lorrie, which I welcomed. I also like that Eastwood hints at marital problems without spelling them out.

But you wonder whether that too is in service of hagiography. You can find spelled out elsewhere the faintly unsavory details of the mutual financial benefits between the film and Sully’s newly re-released autobiography. I prefer not to dwell on them. The idolatry might have gone down smoother had screenwriter Todd Komarnicki fleshed out any of the supporting parts. But I had to look up Lorrie’s name, the passengers on Flight 1549 remain mostly anonymous, and there’s a whiff of the cornball to the one family (a father and his two adult sons) who get even a few lines of dialogue.

So, how’s the landing itself? Tense, of course, and not without visceral impact, but lacking the breathtaking force of, for instance, the tsunami sequence from Eastwood’s 2010 “Hereafter.” What I’ll remember most are the multiple flight simulations conducted at the behest of the NTSB, which in the persons of Mike O’Malley, Anna Gunn and Jamey Sheridan is presented as a caricature of bureaucratic insensitivity in its inquisition of Sully (a far cry from the actual hearings). These simulations, with equally experienced pilots attempting to return to LaGuardia or land at Teterboro under identical conditions, feel more real than virtually anything else in “Sully.”

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