Plot: Splash a-ah, Saviour of the the passengers
If you don’t know then Sully is the story of Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot who landed on the Hudson River without any passenger deaths. It follows the events surrounding that crash as well as the aftermath for Sullenberger, specifically the investigation that was undertaken on whether he had made the safest decision for his passengers in landing in the unconventional manner in which he did.
Sully’s a tale of 2 halves as films go. Although the halves are interspersed and they’re not exactly halves but there you go. As every reviewer ever has said the stuff on the plane’s spine-tinglingly great and oddly moving even though you know the result and the stuff not on the plane is not.
When we’re in the air there’s an understanding of the passengers fear enforced by the flight crew’s chanting of “Heads down! Stay down!” that gives a lastingly goosebumpsy feeling. The use of fragments of passenger backstory works incredibly well and the portrayal of Sully’s relationship with those around him makes him the likeable character the film is setting out to show him as. Every detail is incredible throughout the rescue effort but this just doesn’t hold up when you leave the plane and head to the meeting rooms of the post-flight aftermath.
The other half of the film follows Sully’s trauma post-flight based around the idea that he may have endangered all of the passengers lives with his decision to land where he did and the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation as to whether he did make the right decision. There’s a number of problems with these sections. Firstly, I could never quite believe the crash investigators to be villains as Eastwood is seemingly attempting to portray them as but more as people just doing their jobs (being honest I was generally thinking ‘that’s Walter White’s wife and Kurt from Glee’s Dad’). Secondly, the inner conflict that Sullenberger is supposedly facing is never quite believable because the audience knows he did the right thing, it’s recent history. Trying to make whether he took the right course of actions or not the central drama in the film in general feels like a misstep. It would be like trying to leave the audience on tenterhooks about whether Turing would crack the enigma code in the Imitation Game.
This in general seems like the film’s biggest flaw: that it wants to be suspenseful. When imaginary planes are crashing down from the sky all I could really think was ‘but that didn’t happen and I know it didn’t’. In one section, I would think to try and put doubts about Sully’s mental state into the viewers heads, he has a minor debate with his wife about a property they own but it’s just not necessary. The film keeps trying to build up tension but there is no reason for this, no one is shocked by the final result or in fact even has doubts about what will happen and that’s perfectly ok. The film doesn’t need to be a thriller, the story is incredible enough joint with the acting that adding these extraneous details just seems like overkill.
Where the storytelling is lacking Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart are not. Both put in excellent performances as the jovial and professional pilots and when the clip of the real Sullenberger is played at the end it is clear to see how spot on Hanks’ performance is. The whole of the supporting cast on the plane also deserve a mention who are all well-played even if their roles are relatively small.
Between these performances and how good the depiction of the events surrounding the crash is the film is definitely worth seeing, even if some sections are notably weaker.