Director: Clint Eastwood.
Cast: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney.
The Moustached Middle Distance Staring Competition was in full swing.
IT’S an odd truth of filmmaking, but sometimes incredible true stories don’t make for incredible films.
Case in point is Eastwood’s take on the extraordinary “Miracle On The Hudson” – the 2009 incident in which Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles lost both engines of their A320 Airbus over New York but managed to land safely on the Hudson River, saving the lives of the 155 people on board.
It was a stunning feat that instantly saw Sullenberger labelled a hero.
Hanks gives a great performance as Sully, portraying him as an unremarkable man thrust into a remarkable situation. His 40 years of piloting experience helped him handle a daring water landing, but it didn’t prepare him for the media circus and investigation that followed.
There are some nice moments in this film, such as when Sully finds out all 155 people have survived, and some good conversations between he and Skiles (a subtle performance from Eckhart), but on the whole, the film is a mess.
Despite being just 96 minutes long, there is a lot of padding going on. We watch the crash-landing, which is admittedly spectacular, twice in full (as well as three simulations of it, and a couple of nightmarish alternate versions). Such repetition is unnecessary and increasingly boring. There is also a sense of repetition in many of the conversations – phone chats between Sullenberger and his wife (Linney) either add nothing to the film or go over old ground.
In and around the crashes, the timeline is thrown around like luggage in turbulence. We go to before the crash, during the crash and after the crash with seemingly no rhyme or reason, stripping any rhythm from the film.
It seems as though Eastwood and his editor Blu Murray have done everything they can to avoid what happened to Robert Zemeckis’ Flight, which started with an incredible airplane crash sequence but struggled to reach those dramatic heights (pardon the pun) again for the rest of the film. Eastwood and Murray’s solution is to stick the crash in the middle and again at the end, but then throw the rest of the movie around them in a jarring manner.
The lack of focus and flow is distracting. When we do finally see the crash in its entirety for the first time, it comes mid-conversation, taking us out of one scene for about 20 minutes before dumping us back where we were. It’s anything but smooth.
Equally graceless is the film’s attempt to find a source of tension and antagonism to drive the drama. Sadly this comes in the form of the ludicrous investigation that follows, which tries to argue Sullenberger could have made it back to an airport and was therefore reckless in attempting a water-landing. While the investigation really happened, the plotting is idiotic (particularly the courtroom-style ending) and feels insincere. It may be true (the film is based on Sullenberger’s own autobiography) but it plays out as anything but.
With no convincing dramatic tension, Sully ultimately fizzles out and feels long despite it short run-time, surviving largely on the good graces of Hanks’ performances, the crash itself, and the occasional warm-and-fuzzies the Miracle On The Hudson generates.