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Sully - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B
Acting: B+
Writing: B-
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+
Special Effects: B

The central question behind Sully, the dramatization of Captain "Sully" Sullenberger's landing of a US Airways flight in the middle of the Hudson River in 2009, is whether he made the right decision. It's the basis of the story, and if director Clint Eastwood is to be believed, the reason for the drama. Plenty have jokingly called Sully "Flight II," an apropos comparison only in that the near-crash landing scene in Flight was inarguably more exciting -- and that makes Sully feel a mite like a less-thrilling retread.

But then, the landing depicted in Sully is arguably more impressive, given that it actually happened. (In fact, real-life pilots have said the sequence in Flight was actually unrealistic.) And although the framework of Sullenberger's investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board does nothing to make the story more interesting, Sully is skillfully edited in a way that keeps us going back to the action of the emergency landing, revealing more each time. By the time a public hearing is occurring and the entire event is re-lived as everyone listens to the cockpit recording, the sequence is even more tense than before, as Sully and his copilot realize they are far too close to the buildings of manhattan, pass alarmingly close to one of the bridges over the river, and they land in the water.

One thing I kept wondering about, however, was how much truth there was to the federal agency investigation spending so much time insisting their computer simulations suggested Sullenberger made the wrong decision. Artistic license is always to be expected in a cinematic retelling of a true story, but for one that happened so recently -- only seven years ago -- this is arguably unfair, as it's going to make viewers assume Sullenberger and his copilot were subjected to government suspicion and harassment. It turns out, according to the New York Times, this version of events is not quite accurate. Director Clint Eastwood, and script writer Todd Komarnicki, are simply ratcheting up conflict where there was none.

This might not have been as much of a problem in more nuanced hands, but Eastwood goes for a telling of the story that is sometimes overtly contrived. It cheapens a story that is truly amazing when taken as it actually happened.

At least he cast his movie with a bunch of great actors. Tom Hanks can always be counted on, and he's a great choice to play Sullenberger, showing his effort at restraint while being overwhelmed by far more attention than most people can handle. Aaron Eckhart plays his loyal copilot, and Laura Linney his wife, although we only ever see her talking to him on the phone while he's stuck in New York for both the publicity and the investigation. Anna Gunn appears as one of the lead investigators, and her performance far outshines any of the rather forgettable lines written for her.

When Sully works, it does so on the strength of a great cast, in spite of some token passengers followed more specifically in an apparent attempt to provide some representative perspective among the 155 who were saved: a man and his two grown sons going on a golfing vacation together; an elderly mother with her grown daughter traveling together. None of these characters are very interesting or have much dimension -- they're presented like stock characters in a typical disaster movie.

Except Sully is more of an almost-disaster movie. That does give it some novelty, and the sequences depicting the landing itself are well executed. It's just that the rest of it is just a little overdone, a little too Hollywood-ized. I want to see the version of this movie directed by, say, Paul Greengrass, whose United 93 was a fascinating look at procedure in the face of tragedy. Clint Eastwood is more interested in a story about proving heroism in the face of suspicion -- suspicion that, in real life, didn't actually exist. It makes for a flawed film, but at least it's entertaining.

Aaron Eckhart and Tom Hanks stick the landing in SULLY.

Overall: B
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