Review: Clint Eastwood's "Sully"

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Clint Eastwood's "Sully," stands a good shot at giving Tom Hanks his sixth Oscar nomination of his career, he's that good. Eastwood, now 86, had an Oscar nominated film with "American Sniper" last we heard from him, oh and it was also the most financially success film of his career at the box office. Forget all about the Left vs Right debate that surrounded the movie, that was just a damn fine movie about war and the PTSD effects on the soldiers.

The story of American pilot "Sully" Sullenberger, who landed the troubled US Airways Flight 1549 full of passengers on the Hudson River on January 15, 2009, is well known and was one of those feel-good stories that really just made you happy that something good actually happened in the news for once. Sully was depicted as a hero because, well, he was. He saved many lives on that day, 155 to be more precise, but is it enough to make a feature-length movie out his story?  The answer, after watching "Sully" is a complicated one to pin down.

As previously mentioned, Hanks is phenomenal. He brings a real simplicity to his character that is hard for any other actor to match onscreen. Sullenberger is a hero that does not have the most exciting personality. A family man, he struggles to make ends meet, he is in debt, but doesn't let it interfere with his line of work. Laura Linney plays his wife in scenes that don't necessarily reveal a lot of depth outside the usual working class struggles. That is until the Hudson landing happens.

The landing of flight 1549 on the Hudson river only appears an hour into the movie, it is subtly detailed and precisely choreographed as to try and give you more than a few perspectives from that fateful day. In a sly nod to Kurosawa's "Rashomon," Eastwood shows us the miraculous event numerous times in the film and from different perspectives. This lends a multi-layered aspect to the film that Robert Zemeckis' "Flight" lacked. Although, technically speaking, Zemeckis' film is far superior, it does not have the classicism that Eastwood brings to the film from all his years experience with the old-school Hollywood filmmaking.

So why does the film ultimately not engage as much as it wants to? After much pondering, it just has to do with the limitations of the narrative, the thinness of the story. No matter how heroic Sullenberger`s story might be it just doesn`t have enough meat to be translated into a motion picture. Even at 96 minutes, the shortest Eastwood in quite sometime, the film feels stretched out. They could have gotten away with 75-80 minutes, but 96 is too much. Alas that is also what makes "Sully" such an unusual film: Its simplicity. Its refusal to adhere to what such a movie must look like.

Eastwood had a phenomenal phase between 2003-2008 where he just killed it with classic after classic ("Mystic River", "Million Dollar Baby", "Letters From Iwo Jima", "Changeling", "Gran Torino") then he went on a bit of a rut after that, I mean what else do you call "Invictus", "Hereafter", "J. Edgar" and "Jersey Boys". It sucks, because we all love him, but he had lost his touch. "American Sniper" was a good step back into the right direction and, I do believe, "Sully" is one too. The best possible movie about this man's life was made, except there wasn't much there in the first place beyond the miraculous event that it was inspired by. Maybe such a simple movie for a simple man sufficed. [B-]