Clint Eastwood’s career as an octogenarian director has been inconsistent to be sure, but it’s instructive to compare his last two films, one of them I hated (American Sniper) and one I loved (Sully). Both of them are about heroism, and that heroism basically is doing one’s job well. But while Chris Kyle was killing people and lying about his record, to all accounts “Sully” Sullenberger was simply doing his job, which meant looking out for the lives in his charge.
Sully, the simple title of the film, works on many levels. It is a taut thriller, even though the entire world knows how the main event turns out. It is an effective legal drama, especially because most of the world did not know that part–that Sullenberger, while receiving adulation in the media, was evading being scapegoated for his water landing on the Hudson after a bird strike. Simulations showed that he could have returned to LaGuardia, where he took off, or landed at nearby Teterboro, but his gut told him otherwise.
Also, it is an acting showcase for Tom Hanks. Hanks, now sixty, has moved on to a different sort of role, as he has showed in Captain Phillips, Saving Mr. Banks, and Bridge of Spies. In all of these roles, plus Sully, he bears a weight. It’s hard to imagine this is the same actor who started with light comedy. I haven’t seen Hologram for a King but that’s the same kind of role, a Death of a Salesman type role. Hanks is no longer the class president of Hollywood, he’s the dean.
I believe Hanks is in every scene, and he nails it. We Americans know what Sullenberger really looks like, but when we see the real man at the end he’s the one who looks like a fake. Hanks effectively captures a man who is torn between the world wanting a piece of him because they love him and another group of people who want his head on a platter. It’s impossible to imagine what Sully went through, but Hanks seems to have figured it out.
I also liked Aaron Eckhart as Jeff Skiles, Sully’s blunt first officer. There a bunch of fine character actors, like Jamey Sheridan and Chris Bauer, on hand, and Laura Linney does nicely with a thankless role that has her always on the telephone and never in a scene with Hanks. But this is Hanks’ show, and Eastwood’s, who brings in this flight in swift fashion, with spectacular effects.
It’s certainly no coincidence that Sully was released on 9/11 weekend. There are scenes of an airplane flying low over New York City, and we all can feel what that must have been like, a mere eight years after a much more disastrous outcome. This is like the anti-9/11, when numerous people (especially the multiple boats that were on the Hudson) reacted immediately to the emergency, but this time with no lives lost. You, like I, may get a little tear in your eye.