Sully movie full length review - Solid, if a bit clumsy, portrayal of an everyday hero. Better than Flight!
It's kind of depressing for me to witness a growing contempt in Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood. To be clear, all of it is for good reason.
I personally don't care for his political views, nor do I stomach his recent, unpleasant comments on my generation. His 2012 support for Mitt Romney hasn't been more than an embarrassment. His films also haven't reached critical success for a decade and, topped with his baggage with the media, still probably won't be for a while. It's a shame that a man who once started out as an out-of-nowhere classic icon and also a well-acclaimed director will now be remembered by the new generation as "that crazy old guy".
Even then, it's still a bummer considering that he's still capable of making great work. He has a great eye for filmmaking and an unrestrained approach to storytelling. His biggest perk is designing simple yet effective tales out of troubled historical figures. There's no "what if" or "how come" in his stories. Just the basic "it is what it is" style of his biopics. Some might complain that there isn't much meat to chew on as a result, but what makes Eastwood great as a storyteller lies in the trust he bestows on subjects he feels has just enough resonance on its own. Sometimes that works great (Letters from Iwo Jima) and sometimes it doesn't (J. Edgar). With Sully, which tells the story of a recent plane landing on the Hudson River by Chesley Sullenberger, he once again reaches that same template with great earnest to the now-retired hero. The result is a solid, well-intentioned, slightly clumsy, tribute to a historical figure that no man other than Eastwood can make.
Now the life of Sullenberger is a fairly straightforward one. Once during a flight in Flight 1549, a major turbulence caused by out-of-nowhere birds forced Sullenberger to attempt a miraculous landing in the Hudson River. After saving everybody on the plane, he is held as an "All American Hero" even though he just did his job. However, the NTSB, after an investigation on the wreckage, finds evidence to suggest that he committed an irrational act and found evidence of an alternative and safer method to land the plane. But Sully, along with his co-pilot, suggest that his human instincts point to the contrary, even going as far as to deny the dozens of flight simulations against his claim. Is he right? Did he act rationally? Or does the big, bad, mean NTSB just trying to tarnish his reputation? Do you seriously need answers to all of these?
Now I know a bunch of smarty pants is bound to compare this to another plane movie Flight since both films are about pilots who attempted miraculous landings and somehow gets ridiculed for it. But while Flight was an overrated, unlikeable slog where such a landing can only be achieved by an under-appreciated drunk who shoots up blow and abuses his friends, Sully takes a simple, likable explanation. He is just a man with past experience with a plane who believes in doing what he can to save as many people as possible, even if it means not landing on a runway. He has a lovable relationship with his wife and kids who gets separated thanks to a swarm of media news people. He feels that the NTSB forgets the fundamentals of human instinct so much that they wouldn't see the danger of not complying with it. The only piece of extra information we get is when Sully suffers from reasonable nightmares of the plane crashing which resulted from him not committing to the Hudson in the first place (in beautifully crafted CGI plane crashes). Though otherwise, Clint Eastwood adds little more to this story and instead focuses on a man who just simply did his job and gets the well-deserved hero status, which leads to probably his most heartwarming piece in his career so far.
Sadly, that does lead to a lot of issues. The film's structure is a little all over the place for starters; Todd Komarnicki's scattershot screenplay rearranges the events rather than in order, which honestly would've been the better route. It starts with Sully after the crash, then before, then even back to his younger days, then the events at the hearing. It's a weird structure and it's made worse by the film deliberately finding ways to film the crash from multiple angles. Another issue lies in the film being too one-note in its short and sweet storytelling, in which Eastwood frames the NTSB as the bad guys who misunderstood Sully's act of heroism. It gets reasonable at first, but then once the film shifts into the "man vs machine" court case, it gets distracting. I expected that to be the case all along, especially from a film made by an anti-government conservative, but it's still unfortunate to see a huge sacrifice in complexity, both in narrative and in character.
Huge issues aside, this is a fine surprise for me and a huge improvement for Clint after the two-punch disappointments back in 2014. Tom Hanks is still great in his otherwise straightforward role. The way the film represents an everyday hero is admirable and sentimental. The runtime is deliberately shorter so it doesn't overstay its welcome. And yes, lo and behold, Eastwood amps up the production value in this for the first time in forever, with simple camera work and impressive CGI plane sequences. In a weekend of sad recognition of 9/11, Sully deliberately arrives in the right time to remind us about that little heroic event that's bound to bring us hope in the near future. Should this be Eastwoods last film, it'd be a great closure to an impressive career.