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Review: Sully is a pleasant surprise

by Eric Blume

Several years ago pairline pilot Chesley Sullenberger famously landed a plane on the Hudson River saving all lives onboard. Sully, Clint Eastwood's new film about the event and the man has a quiet assurance and uniquely gentle force that reap bountiful cumulative rewards.  It’s a powerful movie about big things like the value of work and personal responsibility.  It’s also a Great New York Movie that makes you feel the special spirit of the city.  

Sully’s narrative cuts back and back and forth between the hours before the landing and several days afterwards.  This temporal shifting helps to focus us on what the film is really about: how someone who performs a truly heroic act processes that afterwards...

 As Sully is declared a hero across the media, he spends the next few days alone trying to figure out what happened, and why he's unable to truly feel any sense of heroism.  

Tom Hanks’ acting of this unique arc is remarkable.  I had the pleasure of reviewing him in A Hologram for the King earlier this year, and just yesterday, we wondered what he needs to do to get back into Oscars’ good graces.  If he doesn’t get a nomination for this film, I’m not sure what he needs to do.  His performance is so carefully calibrated, and so simply and honestly felt, that he adds depth and layers of meaning to the movie that elevate the film into something artful.  He takes us through a journey backwards, and then all the way forward and around again:  Hanks paints Sully as someone who can’t embrace his legacy until he fully understands and truly owns it.  

The centerpiece of the movie an hour in, the crash/landing on the Hudson, speaks to all of Eastwood’s strengths as a filmmaker.  He may be an idiot politically, but all those years of making movies has given Eastwood not only the confidence of seasoned filmmakers but more importantly the wisdom to know when to leave things alone.  The crash sequence contains  little of the typical “movie heightening” measures that generally accompanies these things.  Eastwood captures what feels like just the right amount of panic, and nothing is milked.  The camerawork doesn’t gild the lily on the images of the plane in the Hudson;  Eastwood trusts that the images themselves will have power.  The ensuing moments, as the passengers evacuate and the city unites for rescue, are told with a simplicity and grace where everything speaks for itself.

Sully doesn’t reach the dizzying emotional wallop and deep artistry that Paul Greengrass found in United 93, but this story has a “smaller”, more human dimension that reverberates to wider meanings.  You feel cradled in the intelligence of a major director, and an actor reaching blissful purity of feeling.  The film is made with restraint, and respect for the audience, too.  It's one of the best films Clint Eastwood has ever made and a great launch into the fall movie season.

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Reader Comments (17)

Just saw this film earlier and was surprised with Eastwood's directorial effort as well.

My plea to the Academy: PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE nominate Tom Hanks!!!! He was deserving of a nomination for Captain Phillips and, arguably, for Saving Mr. Banks but was blatantly ignored. His subtle but powerful work in this film is remarkable!

September 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMiguel

It is unfortunate that Hanks received 2 Oscars one right after the other ... his performance in Forrest Gump was not great... in Philadelphia ... better.... but I feel this has really hindered him from the noms for 3 movies Ryan, Phillips and Bridge of Spies ... will see what this year brings...

September 10, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterrick

Eric: Thanks for this. I'm now more excited to see it. I'm an Eastwood fan and when he's at his directorial best he can be excellent. And Hanks is having a major second act to his career.

rick: Hanks was nominated for Ryan at least.

September 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

So I suppose this means the NBR are going to award him Best Director, right?

(I called it first!)

September 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCS

CS: You might be right! ☺

September 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

Not here for another Clint Eastwood sausage fest. My dad's favorite movie from the 90's and a bore of a non-story.

September 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJim

So it's below United 93, but above, say, Zemeckis' Flight?

September 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Spectacular acting and directing. I was on the edge of my seat, despite knowing how it would end. Thats thanks to Eastwood. Tom Hanks....I have missed you. Its time for another academy Award!

September 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I found this film awfully flat outside of the crash sequences. I just do not understand many of Eastwood's directorial decisions.

September 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

RickI know he was nominated for SPRYAN lost to Benigni.

September 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMARK

Is this just like Flight?

September 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

Eastwood can be so good. It's heartening to read this review.

September 11, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I liked the movie just fine, and I appreciate the harmonious coexistence of no-nonsense workmanship among the Sully character, the script's treatment of him and the events, Hanks' performance, and Eastwood's light direction (free of the heavy-handed forced gravity he can sometimes use like a blackjack). It strikes me as a very Eastwood thing that the emotional climax of the movie (for me, at least) is two professional men in a hallway congratulating each other (with limited, stoic external expression) that they did their jobs successfully.

Still, I think it's a rare case where the lily could have been gilded just a little at the end, for some kind of closing bow or "oomph" or... something. I always tend to want less explained to me or spoonfed or spelled out in giant capital letters, and I respect a film that resists adding frills where it doesn't need them. This one, though, might have benefitted from it right there in the last two or three minutes. As is, it's like Aaron Eckhart looks over at a clock, realizes it's 4:59 p.m., delivers a two-star joke where a four-star joke is needed, everyone punches out their timecards, and that's a wrap.

It's a fine, digestible-in-one-sitting meal that I don't think I'll ever revisit.

September 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGabe

EdwardL and Mark ... thanks for the correction

September 11, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterrick

thanks for the good feedback, everyone. Gabe, interesting take, and yes of course the film still has the patented Eastwood white-liness about it. it keeps men safely within "man-feeling" palettes of emotion, but i thought was he did tell, he told honestly, which i don't often find true with eastwood, who usually has more of an eye on the audience.

i find the film infinitely better than FLIGHT, which was insanely corny to me, with a by-the-numbers performance from denzel washington, full of zero surprises and any new insight. denzel's character is a comically-self-constructed "move hero" where in SULLY we not only have the real thing, but the dissection and understanding of why someone is the real thing.

September 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEric

This move was excellent. Hanks's performance was perfect, but I feel like if he didn't get it for Captain Philips they have written him off.

September 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Lipp

This movie was not good. Horrible ending, pedestrian script, and bad acting besides Hanks and Echkart. Linney was not great in her scenes, sadly all her scene partners were a phone, and Anna Gunn was painful. Do not understand any praise this film is receiving.

September 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAdam

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