In 2009, New Yorkers were submitted to watching what media branded “The Miracle on the Hudson,” and seven years later, director Clint Eastwood tries harder than ever to transform the very unique event in to something of a hero’s journey. Eastwood takes Sully Sullenberger’s story and transforms it in to an unremarkable and tedious drama that would be so much more appropriate as a Sunday night movie on basic cable, if Sully were played by Neil McDonough or Tom Selleck. Tom Hanks can play a role like this in his sleep, and in “Sully,” he evokes the exact same tones and character elements we saw him master in “Captain Phillips.” In Eastwoods ho hum drama, Hanks is the poor man’s Captain Phillips, sensationalized to look distressed and making very hard decisions in a very tough situation.
There’s even a moment when Sullenberger is being examined by a doctor after the crash on the Hudson, which feels like a lame restaging of the heartbreaking finale. Hanks does a damn good job trying to look like someone filled with humility who had this shocking turns of events thrust on him. Most of the time he just looks bored in the skin of Sullenberger, and seems to be sleepwalking in to yet another Oscar nomination. At the very least, he is at least earning an Oscar nomination for Clint Eastwood who approaches the material with zero flair or innovation. Eastwood wants to sensationalize the event by depicting Sully as something of a guilt ridden everyman, while also anxiously trying to film every event with a stark reality in the vein of “United 93.” Of course both aesthetics clash big time, allowing for an uneven and wildly surreal experience.
One instance has Sully quivering on a boat, anxiously calling his wife to assure her he survived the crash (Laura Linney appears mainly to stand by a phone and react to the events, as Sully’s wife). The next minute he’s having dramatic CGI ridden nightmares about plane crashes, and news casts involving Katie Couric. After the laughable nonsense that was “Jersey Boys,” and “J. Edgar,” director Eastwood seems anxious to re-visit the idea of the every man doing a great job, and getting his accolades for it. He even gets “punished” for committing to a tough decision that saved lives but may or may not have been necessary, which makes the entire idea of Sullenberger’s depiction on screen feel disingenuous and hacky. This becomes especially true watching folks like Mike O’Malley, James Sheridan and Anna Gunn mug for the camera as the dreaded National Transportation Safety Board.
They’re the villains, he’s the good guy, and damn them for making him sit through questioning and second guessing him–especially when he spends the movie second guessing himself. Eastwood’s film is very bland and goes through the motions to tell a story that Eastwood seems passionate about telling but has zero interest in making it feel like a cogent narrative. The screenplay drifts every which way. and the film just ends leaving us looking at Sully and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart donning the best mustache ever) like dopey lumps, rather than men who relied on pure skill and raw instinct to save over a hundred people. “Sully” is not as painful as Eastwood’s aforementioned dramas, but it’s forgettable, drab, basic cable fodder screaming for Oscar recognition until the very end.