For being 86, you really have to give Clint Eastwood some props for continuing on directing—especially after his string of duds that spans nearly a decade. Those who hadn’t already called it quits on the legendary actor/ director—whose quality in films took a sharp nosedive after 2008’s Gran Torino—will be pleasantly surprised to see that Eastwood has seemed to have taken criticisms to heart as he directs an entirely compelling and emotionally effective film about the miraculous landing on the Hudson River.
If there is one thing to say about Clint Eastwood’s films over the last decade, it’s that they’ve lacked any sort of focus. Cramped plots, missed opportunities and the sense that even Clint doesn’t know what kind of movie he is making plagued his previous five efforts. But with Sully, he crafts a much tighter, focused film that retells a story that many already know and he doesn’t assume you don’t.
I expected the famous landing to kick-off the film in high-octane fashion—but it doesn’t. Eastwood isn’t really concerned with the landing; he’s concerned with the aftermath as a committee tries to place the blame on Sully (performed by an ever-admirable Tom Hanks) for going against orders to land either back at Laguardia or in NJ. It’s remarkable just how intriguing the film becomes once you start to wonder whether or not Sully should’ve actually landed on the Hudson.
When we finally do get to landing, it isn’t handled like a cheap thrill to sell tickets but rather is done as conventional and accurately as possible. Eastwood does not try to stretch it out longer than necessary, nor does he try to make it more exciting than it should be; it is simply a retelling of the incident without any added flair—and it’s still mightily impressive.
Circling around multiple times back to the day of the incident, Eastwood builds a tapestry of regular people who got caught up in an event that will unite the passengers, the flight crew, and the city of New York itself. As one character puts it in the film, “It’s been a while since New York had any news this good…especially with an airplane in it,” and perhaps any other weekend this might not have resonated so well, but with it being the 15th anniversary of 9/11, there’s an extra weight to that line that solidifies Eastwood’s loving look at the city that stood right back up after that infamous day and united as one.
Tom Hanks delivers a knock-out performance as the heroic pilot suffering from symptoms of PTSD while also trying to defend his honor and career. In many ways Sully is the exact film American Sniper should have been since the action takes a backseat to the performances and psychology. Thanks to Hank’s masterful acting we get a poignant portrait of a man who might come off as the indestructible the legend has made him, but it actually affected him in much of the same way as his passengers. Hanks nails the small, subtle moments with such precision that even the slightest quiver in his voice is enough to make you get choked up too—he still has it.
Backed up by a splendid Aaron Eckhart as his co-pilot Jeff Skiles, the two make a charismatic duo as they both try to make sense of the fateful day. While neither endured actual scars, the sheer terror and risk of death both faced is enough to leave them men reeling from their experience. My one major complaint is the severe under-utilization of Laura Linney as Lorraine, Sully’s wife, who serves as little more than a plot device as she sits at home waiting for her husband to call while watching the television in tears.
There’s that all-too-familiar saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but Clint Eastwood proves the neigh-sayers dead wrong as his new film soars him to stellar heights in what is by far one of the most fascinating and entertaining movies of the year. Maybe Clint still has a few more under his belt: my faith has been restored.