Sully (2016) (Review)

Despite being just 96 minutes long, it was difficult to think that an entire feature-length film could made from a 208-second incident that, while miraculous, was rather short-lived. Sully utilises the star-power and talent of director Clint Eastwood and lead actor Tom Hanks to sustain the rest of the runtime, with a compelling and engrossing play-out that is as interesting as it is intense.

In January 2009, Chesley 'Sully' Sullenberger (Hanks) and Jeffrey Maslow (Aaron Eckhardt) make an emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 passengers and crew members. Subsequent publicity and investigation leads to scrutiny of the pilot and whether his decision to make a controlled water landing really was the only way to save the lives of those on board.

Sully works terrifically well because of how effectively the film is structured. Eastwood's use of in medias res - opening the film in the middle of one of Sully's nightmares, caused by the trauma of the event - allows the action to be balanced efficiently across the entire piece, with sporadic bursts of the day in question intercutting through the usage of flashbacks and visions. By placing most of the 'Miracle on the Hudson' in the film's second act, with a meticulous recreation of the events that is worth the price of the ticket alone, the film never lags or overruns. Eastwood has a strong grip of the film's pacing and an even tighter one of the film's budget - every single penny of the $60 million production budget is clear on the screen, from the middle centrepiece (sprinkles of which can be found in both the sandwich-ing acts) and the generally impressive special effects outside of this, including Sully's visions of planes crashing in the city. Tom Stern, the film's cinematographer, does an outstanding job here - it really is worth seeing on the largest screen possible.

Hanks brings in a reliably stellar performance in a far quieter role than initially expected, with an understanding of the real Sully's dedication and genuine love for his job. He never sees the landing as a heroic act but rather an requirement and necessity of a pilot's job role. Few, if any, 'Oscar' moments are awarded to him, yet he still creates a continually impressive and nuanced performance with powerful characterisation and control. Eckhart, while very much needed in a supporting capacity, offers some humour to proceedings and interacts well with Hanks - they make a great team, as demonstrated in the water landing. Another important player in this film is Christian Jacob, who works alongside The Tierney Sutton Band to evoke a genuinely moving and emotional score that emphasises some of the most powerful moments in the script with a profound effect. For example, the scene in which the passengers are being rescued from the wreckage is powerful enough on its own - but the score enhances this emotion beautifully and really sends shivers down your spine.

Sully is a solid film with just a few flaws, one being it's jarring editing; its robust runtime seems to signal the need for speedy chops and changes. By affording the film a couple more minutes runtime at the very most, it could iron out evidence of rushed-editing and create something wholly more seamless. It is in the transition from the first act to the second, and the second act to the third, that this wooden detail is most noticeable and off-putting, and the only example of the in medias res not working quite as well. Furthermore, when the third act begins to tread water a little (sorry!) it seems to lessen the impact of the verdict, disrupting the pace just slightly. And finally, the role of Sully's wife, while well-acted enough by Laura Linney, adds very little to the film; in fact, her role could be removed entirely and the film would be relatively unchanged. These are very minor complaints in the grand scheme of things, and Sully remains a compelling piece of film-making - but with a little tweaking, could have been firmly inside my year-end top fifteen.

Sully is a sturdy piece of film-making from the likes of Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks, proving exactly why they are top of their respective games. With a slim runtime and excellent pacing, it is a compelling piece of film perfectly suited to the big screen, with stunning visuals and cinematography. Sully demonstrates the Miracle on the Hudson with a great deal of detail, ensuring it is an engrossing watch, as well as one that educates. It deserves to be viewed on the biggest screen to truly appreciate the stunning visuals, so be sure to see it while you still can!


Summary: Sully uses the talents of both Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood to craft an engaging and compelling feature-length out of a 206 second incident, succeeding because of its excellent pacing and solid visuals.

Highlight: The rescue scene is magnificent and so emotional.