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.