Movie Review: Don't 'Sully' his name

Clint Eastwood strains to pad the 'Miracle on the Hudson'

It's appropriate that the title of Clint Eastwood's new film "Sully" can refer both to national-hero airline pilot, Danville's Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, and to a verb meaning to attack someone's good name and to try to ruin a reputation. You see, the film has been constructed to make Sully not only triumph over crisis in the skies but also those meanies who would dare to question his choices under pressure.

Billed as "the untold story of the Miracle on the Hudson" -- that is, Sullenberger's expert 2009 water landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River after dual engine failure -- "Sully" does a fine job of recreating the short flight and its immediate aftermath as 155 souls evacuate. But that's the "told story" part. The so-called "untold story" is essentially nonsense, suggesting that burgeoning air-safety entrepreneur Sullenberger (oh, the irony!) had to fear the judgment of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), especially before a climactic public hearing.

The struggle is real for screenwriter Todd Komarnicki (the Halle Berry-Bruce Willis thriller "Perfect Stranger") in telling this "untold story," purportedly based on Sullenberger's own book (with Jeffrey Zaslow) "Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters." Even at 95 minutes, "Sully" is visibly padded, with two useless flashbacks to Sully's years of flying experience (his four decades of flight experience get mentioned in dialogue, thrice), repetitive scenes of Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) and co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) fretting over the NTSB inquisition, and a second depiction of the flight to afford a slightly different perspective.

The film makes the good point that Sullenberger didn't pull off the "miracle" alone: he was aided by cool-headed flight crew and air-traffic controllers, ferry and tourist boat rescuers, and reasonably orderly passengers. Komarnicki and Eastwood play the note hard that "the best of New York came together" in a post-9/11 feel-good survival story of can-do New York heroism (a colleague tells Sully, "Y'know, it's been a while since New York had news this good. Especially with an airplane in it"). If only those nasty investigators and (cough) regulators would stop telling salt-of-the-Earth American heroes their business!

The investigation into the flight first in closed-door sessions and then in that photogenic public hearing with a crowd of extras and big video screens absurdly plays out in hostile, sinister tones despite numerous scenes that show the media circus (not to mention the survivors and ground-level New Yorkers) hailing Sully as a hero (in a laughably blunt bit of scripting, Sully actually says, "I'm overwhelmed by all this attention"). You can feel each gear turn in the script machinery to turn the screws on Sully. It's a false premise for suspense, amusingly underlined by Sully's wife Lorraine suggesting that they could well lose their house if Sully is found at fault ("We need you flying!").

Of course, Warner Brothers, Eastwood and Hanks are really hoping you'll forget that investigations are obligatory, and that public relations exist and generally preclude publicly dressing down heroes. Hanks is demonstrably better than this material: if only he had a Hitchcock around so Hanks could make his "Vertigo" instead of a dutiful product that plays like a 1980s TV "Movie of the Week" somehow elevated to A-list Oscar bait (and shot almost entirely with Digital IMAX cameras). Not every Big News Story needs to be trotted out as a movie. Maybe there was a worthy way to tell Sully's story outside of his 208-second trial by air and water, but making Sully a crusader in a hearing room isn't it.

Rated PG-13 for some peril and brief strong language. One hour, 35 minutes.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


21 people like this
Posted by Pablo
a resident of Danville
on Sep 15, 2016 at 6:35 am

Not sure what all this babble is about concerning this movie.
I thought this was a great movie done on a great subject.
I enjoyed every minute of it!

10 people like this
Posted by David Barlow
a resident of John Baldwin Elementary School
on Sep 15, 2016 at 8:23 am

Ignore this reviewer---the picture is great and especially in IMAX.

5 people like this
Posted by Victoria
a resident of Danville
on Sep 15, 2016 at 9:54 am

This reviewer needs to go back to school. I loved the movie and its gripping reality. I believe the reviewer has something against Clint Eastwood and just trying to trash it. Stick to the facts man!

6 people like this
Posted by Bo
a resident of Danville
on Sep 15, 2016 at 1:23 pm

The Reviewer is just another Clint hater.

2 people like this
Posted by Beth
a resident of Danville
on Sep 15, 2016 at 5:01 pm

It is easy to hate Clint because of his distorted political views but he does make good movies.

3 people like this
Posted by Jayne
a resident of Alamo
on Sep 19, 2016 at 6:34 pm

We thought the movie was great and hope you read the East Bay Times on Sat. the 17th; that had many local people; that also loved the movie and so proud to have Sully and his wife as neighbors. We know how the people in Carmel feel about Clint and he's well respected. Some editing changed an e-mail I wrote, as it wasn't all filmed in Carmel; like it said; but the residents there; know that Clint Eastwood really cares about people and does his best to make good movies to entertain them. And this was an exceptional one in our estimation. We recommend it to every one; we meet up with! .

1 person likes this
Posted by Joe
a resident of San Ramon
on Sep 20, 2016 at 7:37 am

I agree with the writer of the article. You can't watch a show nowadays without unnecessary Drama. This includes cooking shows, remodeling shows, even shows about astronomy.
I prefer "just the facts.

Like this comment
Posted by Steven34
a resident of Alamo
on Oct 18, 2016 at 10:20 pm

Sully is really an amazing movie. I love to watch this movie again and again. [Portion removed due to promoting a website]

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

Couples Counseling, Al Pacino Style
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,534 views

Talking traffic with Mike Tassano
By | 4 comments | 863 views