“It’s funny. I don’t feel like a hero.”
Round two of “based on a true story” season sees me a little conflicted. I wasn’t sure I was going to go see it because I really do not like Tom Hanks or the films he’s in. But on the other side of that coin, I adore Clint Eastwood as an actor (and even more as a director) and I try to watch everything he does. So when I finally made the decision to go and see Sully: Miracle on the Hudson I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Set in the immediate aftermath of US Airways captain Chelsea “Sully” Sullenberger’s (Tom Hanks) heroic ditching of his Airbus into New York’s Hudson River after losing both engines to a birdstrike, Sully tells his story and that of his co-pilot First Officer Jeffery Skiles (Aaron Eckhart). Specifically how they fought to prove that the events of January 15th 2009 played out in the only way that they could have.
Hailed by the press and the public as a hero, Sully is being railroaded by the investigative team who are looking to call the incident a “pilot error” and end his career. The captain has to fight the NTSB trying to blame him, the PTSD and the nightmares haunting him. With the press hounding him and his family, Sully tries to maintain his composure in the days following those few career and life defining moments in the cockpit.
Splitting the story between the captain’s predicament with the people investigating him and letting us get to see the two hundred and something seconds that made him a hero, Sully is a wonderful little bit of filmmaking that absolutely blew me away. More amazing is that it keeps the running time down to a tight ninety-six minutes, which isn’t just a miracle for an award-chasing true story, it’s a miracle for Clint Eastwood to make a film without flab and keep it down to a more palatable length.
Performance wise, I admit that I was very, very impressed with Tom Hanks. A man that I don’t usually bother watching on screen not only convinced me that he was an average guy in a beyond average situation, but he convinced me that he was struggling with it too. The man played it like your dad was the guy thrown into this extraordinary position; and like it was your dad, you desperately wanted to be there for him when things went sideways and to cheer for him at the good parts.
Now, I’m not going to go out and catch up with every Hanks film I’ve missed over the years, but I certainly won’t instantly dismiss any of his films from hereon in. Not for a little while anyway.
A little more understated, Aaron Eckhart was a pleasure to watch. As he and Hanks went mano-a-mano, moustache vs moustache, to see who could take the title of “most likely to have been fighting The Red Baron in a previous life” competition, the pair make a decent on-screen duo. The former Harvey Dent actor certainly holds his own with Hanks and makes the role his own.
Much less of a surprise, for me, was the quality in Clint Eastwood’s direction. I’ve loved the man for as long as I can remember and while his politics – and his chair berating – may be a little off for me, his films always deliver. Yes, even American Sniper and its rubber baby!
But what got me with Sully was something I wasn’t expecting. I remember the splash down happening all those years ago and I thought the same thing everyone else did: “Holy shit, the dude landed a plane in a river!” However, the thing that weirdly never crossed my mind was what people who weren’t on the plane must have thought. Eastwood does an amazing job of giving the audience a post-9/11 fear in the pit of their stomach while they watch the film.
Suddenly, we are seeing flashbacks of Joe Average public out of the blue watching another distressed passenger jet flying at building height in – not over, in – New York City. With very little effort, you’re sat with a puckered asshole as the combined fears of one of the biggest and busiest cities in the world comes true. It’s outstanding work from the veteran director.
The biggest problem with Sully is that there’s not much to say about it. It’s a good thing too, because I can tell you it’s an excellent film and you can just go and watch it and enjoy it. It’s a true story that almost everyone knows, so it’s more about the filmmaking and the performances than it is having to get every detail of a story no-one knows across. Suffice to say, in a weekend that has two “based on true events” Oscar-bait films, Sully is the one to watch.