By Christian DiMartino
I can just imagine what a eureka moment it must’ve been when Sully was being developed.
“Basically, we have Clint Eastwood behind the director’s chair. We have a remarkable true story about a real hero. Eastwood specializes in making films about heroes. But now we have to cast the hero. Now we need a great actor who is just subtle enough to make this hero come to life. How about Tom Hanks?”
And thankfully, Sully is as marvelous onscreen as it is on paper. I am not sure if I can call Sully a masterpiece, but it’s damn near close. It’s a masterclass in not only filmmaking, but also in acting. It also once again shows that Eastwood, at 86, still knows how to flawlessly tell a story. Most of all though, it shows that, after all these years, Eastwood and Hanks still have it.
By now, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are aware of just what Sully is about. On January 15, 2009, a miracle occurred: within minutes of leaving La Guardia airport, a plane was struck by a flock of geese, killing both engines. Sensing that the plane couldn’t make it back to La Guardia, Captain Chesley Sullenberger (Hanks, of course) made a judgement call: land it on the Hudson River! And you bet your ass he did, with everyone onboard surviving.
This event was obviously a BFD. So you have to wonder: how is Eastwood going to make a whole movie out of this? Well, he actually tells a story you probably (or I wasn’t) aware of. Following the so-called “Miracle on the Hudson,” The NTSB began questioning whether or not Sully and his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckart) could have indeed made it back to La Guardia, which serves as the basis of the film. We also see conversations between Sully and his wife (Laura Linney), who obviously just wants her man to come home.
Now, maybe, there might not be a whole lot of ground to cover here. Or, at least, that’s the main criticism. I suppose that’s somewhat true, but yet Eastwood and co. get in, tell their story, and get out, within 96 minutes. In fact, this is Eastwood’s shortest film, believe it or not. And yet it’s one that he was born to make.
One of the best things about Sully is the way that Eastwood tells this story. One would expect just a straight-forward narrative, but no no no. That’s not Eastwood’s style. Rather than open the film with the big event, he keeps us waiting to see the big event unfold. And when it does, man. It’s a doozy. Thanks to the visual effects team and the crisp cinematography from usual Eastwood collaborator Tom Stern, the crash is well worth the wait.
But that’s not to say that everything around it doesn’t work fabulously. The story we’re unaware of is completely compelling. Also, I really just love Eastwood’s old-fashioned take on heroism. What makes this character so rootable is just how humble he is. The fact that he doesn’t see what he’s done as heroism. But rather, a job.
None of these elements might’ve worked, however, if not for Hanks’ perfect performance. Can you believe that it’s been 16 years since he was last nominated for an Oscar? To quote Kanye West: “That s**t cray.” He’s done great work since Cast Away. I guess they’ve just sorta taken his subtlety for granted. Well, to hell with’em. Not every performance needs to be in your face, and that’s just what Hanks realizes. This is quiet, flawless acting at its finest. I’ve been waiting for him to win another Oscar for years (he has two, for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump). Maybe the Academy will open their eyes.
Really though, every performance in Sully hits the mark. The last twenty minutes is as satisfying as anything you can see. You could barely slap the smile off of my face. The ending is a tad abrupt, yeah. But the strengths more than compensate. And like Sullenberger himself, Sully, overall, fabulously sticks the landing.
It’s one of the year’s best.