phone mail2 facebook twitter play
FILM REVIEW: Sully
Image Credit: Warner Brothers

FILM REVIEW: Sully

26 November 2016 Edd Elliott  | Entertainment

An age-old tale of man versus machine, Clint Eastwood’s Sully finds tension aplenty but struggles with its “true story” tag.

“Brace for impact!” Three words no flyer wants to hear. All those ignored pre-flight safety instructions have come back with a vengeance. We were all fiddling with our phones or reading about completely indispensible sports gilets in Sky Mall magazine – well done us. The announcement of impending disaster, one imagines, would be softened slightly by its delivery in the dulcet tones of Tom Hanks. But the thought of “Why is Tom Hanks flying the plane?” would very quickly be pushed aside by “I’m plummeting towards the earth at 600mph!”

Interestingly, Sully – Clint Eastwood’s re-dramatization of the “Miracle on the Hudson”, the emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on New York’s Hudson River in January 2009 – is more concerned with the aftermath of this dance with destruction. Tom Hanks plays the titular Capt. Chelsey “Sully” Sullenburger, the man at the wheel for the death-defying plummet. The whole world thinks he is a hero. The NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board), however, are not so sure. Early simulations of the flight indicate the passenger jet could have made it back to a runway, and there is even suggestion that one of the engines may still have been working. The inquiries place increasing strain on the already traumatized pilot. Driven to question himself by the allegations, Sullenburger begins to contemplate the capitulation of not only his newfound status but his career and personal life.
 
Despite the suggestion of its rather placid title, Sully is in fact a taut psychological drama. At its heart is the Capt. Sullenburger, broodingly played by Tom Hanks, providing one of his best performances since his last skipper-related role Captain Phillips. The aging pilot is racked with self-doubt. His actions are always minimal – he stares, pauses and frowns – but the small gestures neatly present a man overwhelmed by how far he feels he is plummeting. The film finds more dramatic fair in returning to the flight. Selectively edited versions of the plane’s spiraling descent are replayed as the protagonist relives his now tortured memory, trying to recall his actions at the height of panic. Each does just a little to suggest some guilt. Was he too quick to choose a river landing? Did his failing consultancy business in airplane safety create a conflict of interests? Only in the film’s final moments is the true path of events revealed.


Image credit: Warner Brothers

Doubts come from without as well as within. The slimy NTSB lawyers, led by the ruthlessly officious Charles Porter (Mike O’Malley), hound Sully into admitting the subjectivity of his actions. The tests have been run and the data gathered, they constantly reiterate, and the captain “objectively” chose wrongly. The arguments quickly evolve into the age-old contest of man versus machine. The human – Sully – acted on fallible impulse; computers do not. “Simulations” almost become a dirty word as it is endlessly spat across the meeting room table, supposedly proving the incontrovertible and indisputable that the pilot was at fault. This awesome technological opponent gradually overpowers the film’s protagonist – and the audience to some extent – forcing him to admit defeat. It may not look like Terminator, but Clint Eastwood’s picture flies in the same skies.
 
Herein, however, lies Sully’s largest faults. In pinning the antagonist role on computers, the film creates a straw-man villain. Is it possible that the simulations have been incorrectly calibrated? The film presents Capt. Sullenburger’s realization of this concept as a discovery akin to Gallileo’s eureka moment, but to most of the audience this will appear obvious. Stop for a moment and you realize the fault here is with boring old humans, slightly denting Sully’s anti-computer crusade. The shaky ideology is not helped by a (fittingly) sky-diving ex-machina relating to the discovery of an engine in the film’s final moments.
 
Above it all, Sully struggles with the weight of its “true story” status. We already know that Capt. Sullenburger was not disgraced, constantly undermining the film’s attempts to build an uncertain conclusion. That is not to say Clint Eastwood’s film is without merits: there are extended moments of tension and drama in the fraught boardroom scenes. Sully, however, always feels like its flying against the breeze. Its ideas never truly land safely to ground, leaving one strangely wishing for a slightly darker conclusion.
 
*** - 3/5 Stars
 
Sully opens in theatres on 2 December. The film is directed by Clint Eastwood, and stars Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart and Valerie Mahaffey. It is a certificate 12A.
 

Tell us what you think

You may also like

This Week 16-22 January

This Week 16-22 January

The weather is feeling pretty biting at the moment, but luckily this week there are plenty of events to warm you up and keep you...

Top 5 Jazz Venues

Top 5 Jazz Venues

On these cold winter nights, there’s really nothing better than relaxing in a cosy basement club with cocktails, listening to world-class musicians do their...

Exhibitions to Look Forward to in 2017

Exhibitions to Look Forward to in 2017

In the midst of a stressful life, losing yourself in an exhibition can be the ultimate form of escapism. As always, London’s cultural institutions...

Drinking Gems to Beat Dry January

Drinking Gems to Beat Dry January

How have we reached the end of another year? After what sometimes feels like months of build-up you’ll soon be saying goodbye to the...

The Place Presents: Resolution 2017

The Place Presents: Resolution 2017

Every year throughout January and February The Place, which lies slap-bang between Euston and Kings Cross St Pancras, hosts an eclectic and increasingly diverse platform...

Top 5: Calm Places in London for a Moment of Reflection

Top 5: Calm Places in London for a Moment of Reflection

London is a chaotic city, and most of our lives are spent running from one place to another. In the middle of all this madness,...

Discover London: A Walk Along London’s Canals

Discover London: A Walk Along London’s Canals

The London Canals, running along busy throughways and meandering around some of the capital’s best-known locations, are still somewhat of a secret spot – if...

The Art of Louis Wain Exhibition

The Art of Louis Wain Exhibition

Since 1930, Bethlem Royal Hospital, now home to the Museum of the Mind, has stood in Beckenham. Throughout its 800 years of existence, the infamous psychiatric institution...

Six Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do in London

Six Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do in London

London is full of fantastic tourist attractions and offers plenty of entertainment for those visiting the city. However, if you don't fancy fighting your way...

Top 5: Viewpoints in London

Top 5: Viewpoints in London

They say it’s only when you look from above where you can experience great things. This couldn’t be more true of our great...

More inspiration...

This Week 16-22 January

This Week 16-22 January

From elaborate light festivals through to groundbreaking exhibitions and free comedy, we explore the greatest events coming to the capital.
A Day in the Life of a Poetry Translator

A Day in the Life of a Poetry Translator

We speak to Claire Pollard to find out more about the process of translating the sentiments and expressions of the world's poetry for English-speaking audiences.
Lockwood Kipling: Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London

Lockwood Kipling: Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London

This latest exhibition seeks to honour the life of John Lockwood Kipling, a champion of Indian craftsmanship.
RSC’s Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing

RSC’s Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing

We take a look at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing at The Theatre Royal Haymarket.
Top 5 Jazz Venues

Top 5 Jazz Venues

We’ve rounded up five excellent jazz hubs that are bringing New Orleans vibes to Central London and beyond.

Your inbox deserves a little culture!