Movie Review: Sully

Oscar season kicks off with "Sully," a film directed by four-time Oscar winner Clint Eastwood and starring two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks. That's more awards pedigree than Meryl Streep's dog food!

The infinity scarf of an American hero

The infinity scarf of an American hero

"Sully" is unsurprisingly about Sully, or Chelsey Sullenberger, the accomplished, mustachioed American pilot who, in January 2009, landed a large commercial plane in New York's Hudson River after a flock of no-good geese destroyed both engines, saving all 155 passengers and crew members. The film then follows the landing’s aftermath, the bureaucratic governmental investigation and Sully’s own struggles with being a hero, and by struggles, I mean no struggles whatsoever, but we'll get to that a little later.

The movie's not just about Sully. Early on we’re introduced to Aaron Eckhart as first officer Jeff Skiles, and that's when my own personal game of 'Who Wore It Best: Mustache Edition' began. Still undecided. We meet Laura Linney as the nervous, endlessly supportive wife, who has three scenes telling Sully to be careful—and is promptly forgotten. We also meet a tough as nails trio on the National Transportation Safety Board (or the NTSB for fans of abbreviation, or FOA), who act as the de facto villains of the film, questioning and micromanaging our noble protagonist, claiming computer simulations of the same scenario made it back to LaGuardia safely, but by the end, show him the begrudging respect he deserves. And then there’s the passengers on the flight: a single mother holding her newborn baby, an uncle and his two nephews who get on the plane right before the gates close. Wow. Imagine how different their lives would be if they missed that plane.

Ugh! I can't get her to latch on!

Ugh! I can't get her to latch on!

The movie has a few weird elements I need to address. They’re not American Sniper baby doll weird, but pretty weird nonetheless. The film opens with Sharknado-level special effects of a huge plane crashing into downtown Manhattan, exploding and killing hundreds of people. Of course, it was only one of Sully's nightmares which maybe could excuse the bad CGI, but the movie loses a bit of credibility when you're half expecting the plane to fly into David Liebe Hart's mouth, Tim & Eric style. Also, and I'll admit this might be a real nit pick, but during one scene where Sully is jogging through Times Square, you can clearly see a poster for Eastwood's own film Gran Torino. Nothing takes you back to 2009 like Gran Torino. That's some pretty shameless cross promotion.

The film has a bigger problem, however, and let me get sincere for a moment. As Amy Nicholson, former film critic for the LA Times says, "Sully" is essentially “a study of Eastwood's persecution complex, his fear that not everyone in the world adequately worships an accomplished white man,” and it's hard to argue that point. Not only does every woman in the film have a huge boner for this funny-looking 60-year-old man, but they hug and kiss him and tell him they're around if there's anything he needs, and you know they mean anything. It's comforting to know that old, sheepish white men still got it. 

"Sully" gets as close to big budget puff piece without oozing cotton candy from the projector, and the film never for one moment presents a complicated, flawed, interesting character in its protagonist. At most, he's worried about money and has insomnia. We don't need this film to exist. The movie spends almost the entire running time hammering his hero status home, as if everyone in the audience needs to be convinced of it.

This is where I'm a little embarrassed though, and keep in mind, I'm a straight white guy who would love to be called a hero, but I must admit. . . I did enjoy watching the movie. The emergency landing is tense and captivating, the acting is terrific and it's all perfectly watchable. Not only that, but I cried at the end. I cried because in the last five minutes, Sully, and thus the film, explains that he's not the only hero. The passengers who helped each other out, the flight attendants who took control, the rescue workers who prevented drownings and hypothermia in the freezing waters, the air traffic controllers who acted fast and kept their cool, they're all deserving of as much admiration as he is. I'll tell ya, shmaltzy and/or cynical as it may be, it worked on me.

So, in conclusion, I don't know how to feel about "Sully." Good in execution, bad in theory? A waste of time, but no wait, it made me feel better about the world? I don't know what to do. I'm not sure how to conclude this whole thing. Look, this is my first movie review. I'm torn. I'm conflicted. Give me a break, I'm no Sully Sullenburger.

Rating: I give this movie two and a half shredded geese.