A Movie Review - "Sully"
When I had the opportunity to see the film Sully this past week, I have to admit, that I probably wouldn't have taken it unless I had a pending film review to write courtesy of this 30 day blogging challenge. The film centers around the actual events surrounding the "Miracle on the Hudson" when a US Airways flight was forced to land on the Hudson River after multiple birds strikes disabled both engines. Miraculously, every single passenger on the flight survived, despite the water landing and freezing January temperatures.
The obvious challenge of telling this story, of course, is that the actual events, having played out in real time on a national level, are extremely well known. And while I have to admit that I was not terribly transfixed by the events when they happened, and thus know very little about the real life minutiae, I did know the gist of the story. Despite the "I know the boat hits the iceberg", Titanic-esque challenges befalling the director and screen writer, the film slowly but surely sweeps you up for a surprisingly calm, but harrowing account of Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger's days including and following the infamous story that transfixed the nation.
I was intrigued to learn that the film was directed by Clint Eastwood, but as the events of the plot began to unfold, it was the methodical and even-keeled storytelling prowess that Eastwood so eloquently harnesses in his films that perfectly falls in step with the real life personality of Sully. Where the film begins at a bit of a plodding pace, it ultimately redeems itself through a pacing that feels deliberate - it's as if the film matches the character's disposition, and ultimately, it all kind of works.
If we had been zipped away into a whirl wind of near-catastrophe or pushed with the overwhelming spotlight befalling Sully at the speed of light, it might very well have done a disservice to the nature of the character and ultimately the steady voice throughout the film of a decidedly quiet and serious Sullly. Sully, played by the incomparable, but oftentimes predicable Tom Hanks, isn't exactly your typical hero - he is quiet and stoic, to be sure, but he is just as preoccupied with the future of his career and dealing with his own post traumatic stress as he is with appearing on Letterman. He's revered as a hero, but it's clear that Sully the man would be just as happy to have not flown his airplane into the river, thankyouverymuch.
The stoicism of the film is evident in Eastwood's use of sound. The film is actually pretty... quiet. Visually, we don't see much either to distinguish the main character's inner feelings, or even to assist in differentiating timeline. This definitely isn't La La Land. Where it could be easy to blow us away with sounds of the plane crash or use lighting to create flashbacks laden with emotion and atmosphere, Eastwood chooses instead to remain a traditionalist. There's no flash or sleight of hand here, just a well crafted insight into the main character's experience.
It isn't until the second act - when we're taken more fully into the reenactment of the crash and the subsequent rescue of the passengers on board - that the film rushes us into harrowing territory and the ultimate surprise of this moment is that the heroism doesn't come from the our protagonist, Sully, though he is certainly a hero. The truly harrowing feat is the culmination of each minor character's actions in the face of an unthinkable situation. What happens in the film is a rare and beautiful thing in this day and age: everything goes right. Everyone does what needs to be done and the systems of civilization do, in fact save the day. None of this, of course happens absent of deep emotions, but there's something about the combination of real life fear combined with the true heroism of level-headed calm to really strike the viewer in profound way. In this way, the film really redeems itself from a slow start and catapults it into great moving watching.
Of course, this isn't where the full story ends, and yes, Sully does get the last laugh against the Evil Big Government Guys. But the real charmer of this story is that ultimately, Sully, redeemed, sees the heroism in each and every person who made the nearly impossible, miraculously... possible, and the best part of this movie, is that we could see that, too.