Despite its generally positive reception by critics, Clint Eastwood’s Sully, starring the formidable Tom Hanks, is far from a perfect film. The premise of Sully might ring a bell, as it’s based on a breaking news story from 2009 — it tells of Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger’s successful water landing of US Airways Flight 1549 from LaGuardia Airport on the Hudson River in Manhattan after a birdstrike destroys both engines on the aircraft. The movie also explores the National Transportation Safety Board’s subsequent investigation into the incident, which put Sully’s career as a pilot and safety expert on the line — if the Board concluded that the plane’s left engine had not actually been destroyed, then, in theory, Sully could have flown back to LaGuardia instead of landing on the Hudson. The film is a portrayal of man’s struggle with nature and with himself. And let me just say this: thank goodness Eastwood cast Tom Hanks as the lead.
Hanks, just like Sullenberger himself, is what saves this film from disaster. His portrayal of Sully is deeply moving, not just in the heroism of the water landing but also in the potentially career-ending struggle that follows. In both the landing and the investigation, Hanks’s Sully remains quiet, calculating, and distressed. The pain of losing everything after saving everyone is so clearly plastered onto his face that the action of the investigation is just as heart-pounding as that of the water landing. It is a performance not unlike Mark Rylance’s in Bridge of Spies, which gave Rylance a well-deserved Oscar. The rest of the film, however, does not even come close to Hanks’ level.
Eastwood’s insistence on hitting the audience over the head with the danger of the crash via IMAX lenses and 9/11-esque imagery — seen through Sully’s nightmares — is excessive and unnecessary. Perhaps one nightmare would be appropriate to portray Sully’s post-traumatic stress, but four is a waste of time, both for the CGI experts who worked on the film and the audience watching it.
Sully’s screenplay, written by Todd Komarnicki, is plagued with cringe-worthy dialogue and unnecessary bar scenes that are just plain embarrassing for the actors involved. Because of the poor writing, all of the actors except Hanks appear to have overcompensated with emotion, including ones who had previously mastered the art of subtlety — Anna Gunn, Mike O’Malley, and Laura Linney.
As Sully’s wife, Linney gives what is possibly the shallowest performance of the film. Her dialogue takes the form of phone conversations that, if not edited as tightly, would seem like the product of accidental splicing: even in his distress Hanks is calm and collected, while Linney is almost manic and “OVER EMPHASIZES EVERY-THING.” Their performances fail to portray a loving marriage, and that’s Linney’s fault.
As First Officer Jeff Skiles, who endures the same crash and the same investigation, Aaron Eckhart tries his hardest with the most poorly-written lines thrown his way, but still succumbs to the over-acting school with his final piece of dialogue, when he jokes that “the crash should have been in August instead of January.”
The music — by Christian Jacob and The Tierney Sutton Band — is also a major weakness of the film. It’s out of place and at times even ridiculous. There’s one scene in which Sully is jogging around Manhattan at night to calm his nerves; the music that accompanies him echoes that of Enya in a way that almost made me laugh out loud — which was definitely not the intended effect. Moreover, some of the cuts into and out of the score are awkward in terms of the emotional line of the film. Ultimately, the music adds nothing to, but takes away a lot from, Eastwood’s movie.
All of the inconsistent cogs attempting to work together in Sully left me leaving the theater with one thought in my head: the Academy has to give Hanks his third Oscar for enduring this. Only Hanks gives an adequate performance. Only Hanks comes across as sincere and genuine. Only Hanks works in this film. Logically, only Hanks should be rewarded (besides Sullenberger himself).
Sully is almost — but, thanks to Hanks, not quite — a cinematic failure: it’s a story that needed to be told to the world, but should have been told differently.