A Review by Frank Ochieng
by Frank Ochieng
"Filmmaker Clint Eastwood is certainly no stranger to overseeing exploratory biopics and his latest effort in **Sully** definitely supports his cinematic vision for spotlighting an unknown everyday aviation professional into an overnight national hero. Thus, airline pilot Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger became an inspirational savior courtesy of the potentially fateful day on January 15, 2009 when US Airways Flight 1749 morphed into the celebrated newsworthy incident dubbed "Miracle on the Hudson"
In **Sully** Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Kormarinski presents Captain Sullenberger as an understated hero in the unconventional sense. Indeed, Sullenberger had his personal demons and doubts about that critical day years ago when his quick decision to land the doomed aircraft in the icy waters of the Hudson River in the aftermath of a freakish occurrence when a flock of birds managed to disable the engine's operation shortly after takeover from LaGuardia Airport. The label of "hero" may have been somewhat flattering for the veteran pilot in light of his accomplishment in saving the lives of his 155 passengers and crew courtesy of a risky landing that could have been their hellish watery graves. However, the burdensome christening of "hero" weighed heavily on Sullenberger especially when insulting suspicions arose questioning the pilot's actions. Sure, Sullenberger basked in instant adulation but his private torment was almost as haunting as the near tragedy he prevented when ensuring the airborne safety of those jeopardized on board.
The challenging task in **Sully** was to create the tension and psychological strife behind an infamous 6-minute flight headed for disaster. Thankfully, Eastwood's steady direction and Komarnicki's adventurous script captures the tense and anxiety-driven moments that fuels **Sully's** soulful foundation. More important, two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks diligently fits the bill as the beleaguered Captain Sullenberger whose personalized battles with heroism caused pressured ambivalence and self-inflicted guilt. It has been an awful long time since Hanks was tapped for an Oscar nomination so let's hope that his solid work in **Sully** warrants Academy Award consideration.
Some may be rather cynical about Eastwood's daring narrative as the self-explanatory story has been interpreted in so many news accounts, documentaries, the personal accounts from the Flight 1749 survivors and to a certain extent Captain Sullenberger himself. Still, **Sully** sets out to examine a conflicted and confused man second guessing his aviation skills and instincts as an individual thrust into the national spotlight with a combination of hope and hesitation.
Not only had the quick-thinking Sully and co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart in a welcomed, absorbing supporting role) dodged a major catastrophe when accidentally flying into the cluttered Canadian geese that caused the ice-cold water landing in the Hudson but they were actually scrutinized by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) regarding Sully's decision not to return the malfunctioning plane to LaGuardia Airport or toward a nearby airport therefore opting to gamble using the Hudson River as the immediate surface available to land.
Naturally, the sudden media attention anointing the heralded pilot as a heroic soul coupled with the mixed reception of the buzz-killers in the NTSB speculating that foul play may have been involved for the piloting tandem of Flight 1549 understandably heightened the self-doubts and generated Sully's Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In the meantime, Sullenberger's wife Lorrie (Academy Award nominee Laura Linney) as well as other close family and associates are constantly being hounded by intrusive reporters in their attempt to get an exclusive piece of the cherished "man of the moment" in Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger.
Granted that **Sully** will not go down as one of the flashiest biopics to cross our paths on the big screen in recent years. But Eastwood does deserve credit for showcasing the somber and beleaguered Sullenberger as a low-key, loyal isolationist dealing with the newfound fame and appreciation he is awkwardly at odds with facing as the Hudson River landing/rescue still chomps at his tainted psyche. Hanks's portrayal of the extremely likable but reluctant hero with lingering reservations is a stark contrast to contemporary cinematic heroes that routinely defeat monsters and aliens, parade around as slick and resilient super spies, wear superhero masks and capes, solemnly walk the mean streets with ready-made badges and firearms or are war-torn warriors from ancient historical times. Quite frankly, Chesley "Sully" Sullemberger is a flawed yet conscientious man urged to question his own courageousness and professional conviction.
Eckhart's Stiles is effectively drawn as Sully's ardent supporter whose disbelief is tested when the NTSB has the nervy gumption to place his capable colleague under the dubious microscope after his amazing endeavor in protecting the sacred lives all on board the panicky plane destined for its doomsday fate. Conveniently, Eastwood inserts Anna Gunn (from TV's "Breaking Bad") as one of the perceived NTSB interrogating "baddies" trying to pin the wrap on Sully's numb shoulders in reference to his troubling flight methods. Linney, always the talented and involving actress, is merely reduced to displaying the commonplace hysterics of Sully's concerned spouse.
Perhaps **Sully** is not the most thoroughly in-depth biopic one would have imagined because we are working with the perplexing man whose heroic actions made us aware of this seasoned phenomenal flyboy glorified in our living rooms nearly two decades ago. There is not much to ponder about Eastwood's fictitious Sullenberger from his past that gives insight to his current-day characterization as the media-praised hero-in-healing. In all fairness, Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger's claim to fame was his hasty option to spare the endangered existences of his passengers and crew so Eastwood allows his problematic protagonist's questionable heroics to paint the picture as the incredible individual whose January 2009 resourcefulness spoke more truthfully than any miscellaneous flashbacks could do to justify Sully's angst-ridden tendencies.
Overall, **Sully** establishes a different kind of turbulence for an introspective yet gently intense wounded wonder tip toeing on the borderline of deserved and deceptive worship.
1 hr. 36 mins.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Jeffrey Nordling, Jamey Sheridan, Michael Rappaport, Anna Gunn, Valarie Mahaffey
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Critic's rating: *** stars (out of 4 stars)
(c) **Frank Ochieng** 2016"