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"SULLY"
(2016) (Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: Following the emergency landing of a passenger jet in the Hudson River right after takeoff, a pilot must contend with the aftermath of that event, including news coverage, emotional duress, and NTSB investigations that indicate he might have made the wrong choice.
PLOT:
It's January 15, 2009, and pilot Chesley 'Sully' Sullenberger (TOM HANKS) and co-pilot Jeff Skiles (AARON ECKHART) have lifted off in US Airways Flight 1549 from LaGuardia Airport, headed for Charlotte. Just minutes into the flight, however, a flock of Canada geese strikes the Airbus A320, causing dual engine failure. Realizing they probably can't make it back to LaGuardia, Sully decides to ditch the plane into the icy Hudson River. Miraculously, everyone aboard the flight is rescued and survives, and while Sully's wife back home, Lorraine (LAURA LINNEY), worries about him, he and Jeff find their actions scrutinized by the NTSB.

All of which makes Sully, who then suffers from some related PTSD, start to second guess his actions, what with black box readouts and computer simulations indicating the river landing wasn't needed. With an NTSB hearing scheduled in New York casting doubt on what transpired, Sully replays the incident in his head, all while hoping evidence and other findings vindicate him and his decisions and actions.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
Far more often than not, plane crashes don't end well for pilots, crew members, and passengers. It's a simple matter of physics involving altitude, speed, gravity, the density of ground, water or manmade structures, and the frailty of the human body. In fact, and probably due to the extreme severity of such crashes and the usual loss of life that occurs in multitudes, far more people fear flying than driving. And that's despite the latter being far, far more dangerous and deadly ever since both modes of transportation have delivered on our desire to go from point A to point B.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. While you'll occasionally hear about people managing to crash-land in small planes and walk away, sometimes pilots can bring down passenger jets in a manner that allows some percentage of those on board to survive. One of the more remarkable instances of that was back in 1989 when the crew of United Airlines Flight 232 managed to save the lives of 185 people out of a total manifest of 296 souls on board in a spectacular and scary crash-landing caught on video.

But perhaps the most remarkable example of them all -- based on the number of people who survived, the landing site and the frigid water conditions -- was that of US Airways Flight 1549 back on a cold mid-January 2009 day. Having just struck a flock of Canadian geese, pilot Chesley 'Sully' Sullenberger quickly discerned the only course of action -- what with having lost both engines -- was to land the large passenger jet in the middle of the Hudson River. The fact that all 155 people on board survived resulted in the incident earning the nickname of "Miracle on the Hudson" and turned Sully into a much heralded and celebrated national hero. And it gave New Yorkers something to celebrate regarding planes in their city less than a decade after the 9/11 attacks.

I clearly remember the incident and Sully being featured on various news programs and even appearing on "Late Show with David Letterman." What I don't recall is the scrutiny he and his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles, received after the fact by investigators trying to determine if the river landing choice they made was the only one available, or if it was the worst that just so happened to have a happy outcome. The crash, those investigations, and how all of them impacted Capt. Sullenberger are now portrayed in "Sully," the latest film from director Clint Eastwood.

From that description, the pic might sound a bit like the somewhat similarly plotted "Flight," Robert Zemeckis' 2012 drama starring Denzel Washington as a pilot who pulls off a remarkable crash-landing but then has his personal life brought into the investigation. There's a brief little bit of that in this nearly 100-minute long film, but it's relegated to just a few brief questions from investigators about when Sully last had a drink or if he's done drugs.

Like "Flight" this one opens with a flight emergency, with Sully's plane flying low over Manhattan. As that what played out, I didn't recall that flight path from the real incident, but when the plane crashes into a building with a fiery explosion and the pilot wakes up from his nightmare, it's evident that Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki (who's based the screenplay on "Highest Duty" by Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zasloware) are interested in looking at the personal and psychological aftermath of surviving such an incident. And as was the case with Washington, one easily buys into Tom Hanks being a pilot capable of what he does.

Interestingly enough, and despite the dyed hair and mustache, I never really bought into Hanks turning into the real Sully. After all, while some actors can disappear into their parts, the multi-Oscar winning actor sort of always plays a version of himself in most of his roles (with a few like "Forrest Gump" being exceptions). That's not a criticism, as others in the past, such as Jimmy Stewart, did the same.

But what Hanks does is capture the essence of the real man, and the actor's familiar and welcoming presence actually works in his and the film's favor. You feel for what he's going through -- including PTSD, being away from his family, having his decisions questioned, etc. -- and root for him to prevail. Those familiar with the real outcome obviously know how things ultimately play out, but that doesn't detract from the storytelling at hand.

Beyond Aaron Eckhart playing Sully's co-pilot, fellow survivor and steadfast supporter, the film also focuses on brief segments such as that featuring an air traffic controller who has direct contact with the plane; a father & son duo on the plane; and a ferry boat captain who's the first on the scene and goes into rescue mode. Yet, those characters, while involved in what occurs, are mostly superfluous. That, unfortunately, sort of also holds true for Sully's wife played by the always terrific Laura Linney. She's not bad, mind you, but she's completely relegated to a few phone call scenes interacting with her husband.

Those, like much of the film, are assorted in a non-chronological order. It's not that Eastwood is going all Tarantino on us (like "Pulp Fiction"), but there is some jumping around in time. And that includes a few repeat visits to recreations of the actual incident. Thankfully, they're told in enough of a different way each time that the power of the moment remains. And that holds true for the entire film which could very well likely earn Hanks his sixth Oscar nomination -- and could compel passengers to pay a little more attention to the pre-liftoff safety instructions on their next flight. Compelling and engaging from start to finish, "Sully" rates as a 7 out of 10.




Reviewed August 30, 2016 / Posted September 9, 2016


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