Clint Eastwood as director cum political figure is jokingly comparable to Sylvester Groth’s Goebbels the filmmaker in Inglorious Basterds. I say jokingly because no, I’m not actually doing THAT to Eastwood. I’m referring to the incessant flag waving that’s been draped over his filmmaking since, at least, 2014’s American Sniper, and what he’s clearly identified as the need for average American heroes in a culture already obsessed with hero worship. In Sully, Eastwood’s directing style, renowned for its efficiency, contrasts nicely with the film’s negative portrayal of blame-the-little-guy bureaucratic nonsense. But even that’s been slammed as a misrepresentation of the actual investigation into the actual actions of the actual pilots after the actual plane crash.
Hanks is hanks: perpetually wonderful at playing normal people, in this case Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger: appropriately humble and flawed in his ability to self-doubt despite his professionalism and skill. Aaron Eckhart as co-pilot Jeff Skiles is good but Todd Komarnicki’s writing is lopsided. Eckhart’s disappointingly all-American rhetoric and sidekick status undermines the film’s portrayal of PTSD, initially shown as serious with Hanks’ after-the-fact nightmare about crashing and killing everyone. But when both pilots go for a late night walk because they can’t sleep, they mock their union for offering them counselling: “You enjoying the shakes? The nightmares? The rapid heartbeat?”
“A little bit.”
Coupled with the film’s bombastic opening, which successfully grabbed me and lulled me into a false sense of security, the reflected level of post-9/11 trauma is high (“It’s been a while since New York had news this good. Especially with an airplane in it”).
We see the crash several times, and it’s terrifying. The view from the cockpit is exhilarating; the water pouring into the fuselage eerily reminiscent of Titanic. When the pilots realise that they actually, somehow, landed; that they aren’t dead but they still might die, there’s some jeopardy, but it goes unfulfilled because we already know the outcome. Meanwhile, from the outside, things aren’t so great because the aerial view of the big Hudson splash disappointingly resembles the CGI in a not-actual-gameplay PS3 teaser trailer.
During the inquest, Hanks plays the ‘human factor’ card, stating that unlike the stupid simulation that’s being used to screw him, he didn’t want to risk crashing into the most densely populated city in the world, inhabited, apparently, by almost entirely blue collar, white American working men – “The best of New York” – with the exception of a fawning female TV makeup artist and a very obliging hotel manager. And of course, there’s the wasted Laura Linney as Lorraine Sullenberger or, simply, the wife who complains about her husband not being home but never leaves the house to go see him. What a shame.
On the other hand, Anna Gunn as Dr Elizabeth Davis, National Transportation Safety Board investigator, is well cast because she’s already proven her ability to play a strong female antagonist. But isn’t that a little played-out, if not reasonably unnecessary, for a film designed to be true-to-life? Yes, but then this film isn’t meant to be a clinical, factual account. It’s got flavour. It’s got style. It’s been written with a ‘you weren’t there, man’ mentality, but still manages to end up a feature-length conglomeration of the actual 2009 news coverage that ratifies unconditional belief in the media: listen to people, not science. I’d say come on Clint, but then what did I expect? Sully’s story is remarkable, his internal emotional struggle real and well portrayed, but the suspense that this film needs never existed.
If every landing is a successful one, as pilots supposedly say, then Eastwood’s film is a short-haul flight without turbulence or engine failure that still makes a belly landing. There’s too much patriotism. Too much appropriating the actions of the individual for the benefit of national pride and calling it a miracle, as though divine, rather than the result of skill. Sure, Sully: Miracle on the Hudson is noble. It’s about listening to the voice of common people and celebrating their achievements. But in this way it’s one-sided, doesn’t answer how some birds can take down a plane (the actual problem), and leaves you with a smirking Eckhart and a relieved Hanks on the cusp of an ending that didn’t quite reach its climax.
Review by Harry Gallon
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