Sully – Review (** 1/2)

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While it’s hard to argue with the inherent appeal of Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood finally teaming up in a respective actor-director capacity, this dramatisation of the iconic 2009 Miracle on the Hudson is a disappointingly milquetoast, middle-of-the-road effort.

The day of January 15, 2009 saw Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Hanks) and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) perform a highly improbable forced landing of a commercial airliner on New York’s Hudson River mere minutes after take-off. While the pair were largely hailed as heroes by the media and regular folk, the National Transportation Safety Board promptly investigated whether or not Sully’s decision to land on the Hudson rather than return to the nearest airport unnecessarily put lives at risk.

Is there anyone better-suited to playing a salt-of-the-Earth, middle-aged, mustachioed hero than Tom Hanks? He is perfectly cast in this part, so it’s unfortunate that Eastwood’s uncharacteristically heavy-handed direction seems to continually work against him. From an opening nightmare sequence, where Sully dreams of himself crashing a plane in New York, there’s an unexpected tackiness to what really just needs to be a simple character piece. 

Another issue with the movie is that it’s just not very dramatically compelling to see a heroic figure raked over the coals so incompetently by clueless bean-counters for the better part of 90 minutes. Throw in flashbacks to Sully’s younger piloting days, excessive characterisation of the flight’s passengers and a wildly un-cinematic third act set largely in a board hearing, and the end result is a film that, even at such a brief length, feels woefully padded.

The sheer power of the story means Eastwood can’t help but occasionally stumble on dramatic gold, though; the relieved passengers post-rescue is a truly affecting sight, and Hanks as a man coping with an unpleasant amount of fame following an act elevated to mythic proportions does prove intermittently intriguing.

This is largely all Hanks, though; he’s impeccable here, yet the laid-on-thick material doesn’t give him enough room to actually interpret the character beyond a surface portrayal. The rest of the cast (including Laura Linney as Sully’s wife and Anna Gunn as an NTSB investigator) are given fairly throwaway parts, though Eckhart again proves himself one of the most under-appreciated supporting players working today, ironically enough playing Sully’s rather under-appreciated second-in-command.

A thoroughly minor entry into Eastwood’s filmography – and therefore much less than the subject matter deserves – this distended docudrama pores over the same events repeatedly to diminishing dramatic returns, and while some might call it understated, it might simply be bland.

Plus, it’s hard not to roll your eyes at Eastwood a little for including a billboard of his own 2008 movie Gran Torino during one sequence.

** 1/2

Sully is in US cinemas now and UK cinemas December 2nd


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