I don't how to break this news to you, but I think Tom Hanks might be cursed when it comes to air travel. We've seen him survive a plane crash and grow a good beard in Castaway, not make it past Customs in The Terminal and, this week, face an impossible emergency landing in Sully. I love you like a father, Tom, but I think it might be time to try travelling by boat from now on. Oh, Captain Phillips - never mind.
The good news is that the ripped-from-the-headlines saga of Sully doesn't involve any anthropomorphised volleyballs, nor even the corpse of Vince Martin from Beaurepaires. Instead, it's based on the events and aftermath of the "Miracle on the Hudson" of 2009, when US Airways Flight 1549 was forced to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River after birds struck both engines. Every passenger survived thanks to the quick thinking of Captain Chesley Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles.
Tom Hanks is Tom Hanks, so naturally does a fantastic job of portraying Sully, an all-American hero who performs an extraordinary feat of bravery and skill. He also spends a lot of time peering out of hotel windows, and sleeping in front of news reports. It's relatable. Joining him in the cockpit is Aaron Eckhart as his co-pilot, his strong jaw alone enough to keep a Boeing afloat. What's strange is the rest of the stellar cast, including Breaking Bad's Anna Gunn and The Truman Show's Laura Linney are relegated to a lot of hand-wringing and pacing, the more peripheral characters given even less to work with.
Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that director Clint Eastwood would still be obsessed with the lone hero trope, but in Sully it feels as if he is trying to squeeze blood out of a stone, or perhaps a conversation out of an empty chair. Yes, the landing was a miracle and yes, being inside the cabin to experience it is riveting, but even Sully himself says that this was a story of many. Towards the end of the film he thanks the passengers, the emergency services, and the control room responders that all played their part in what unfurled. It's just a shame that none of the human lives on the flight were fleshed out beyond "frazzled woman holding baby" or "larrikin lads on tour".
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In putting all the focus on to one man and his astoundingly calm decision-making, Sully is faced with the immovable fact that the entire central event only lasted 208 seconds. So how to fill up 96 minutes? Eastwood manages to revisit the crash twice, and further reimagine worse outcomes one more time. I don't know if he forgot that he had already put it in, or if there was some kind of copy and paste error in the editing suite, but reliving the experience more than once certainly started to tire.
Beyond the crash itself, Sully becomes a slightly tedious look at the investigation in the aftermath, and the man at the centre of it who just wants to go home to his wife and have a cup of tea and a Kit-Kat. The stakes are very low: we know that everyone survives and that all that Sully will get from the inquisition is a rap on the knuckles and a bit of gardening leave, if that. A fellow cinema-goer observed that the film seems to droop in a way that would mimic Eastwood falling asleep behind the camera, before jerking awake with two minutes runtime to go.
Make no mistake, the events that inspired Sully are remarkable and make complete sense to be recognised through the majesty of the magnificent feature film. It's just a shame that, in targeting the experience of one heroic individual, the humanity of the situation isn't fully realised. Just like Flight 1549 itself, Sully starts off fine but doesn't quite seem to land exactly as planned.