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Film Review: Sully: Miracle on the Hudson

7 December 16 words: Ashley Carter

Clint Eastwood's latest vehicle about the true-life story of Captain “Sully” Sullenberger gliding his disabled plane onto the frigid waters of the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 aboard, didn't impress...

Jay Mohr tells a great anecdote about working with Clint Eastwood on the set on Hereafter.  Mohr, who was an actor in the 2010 Eastwood-directed feature, was filming a scene that involved walking up a set of stairs and knocking on a door, which an elderly female extra would open, and silently hand him a letter. After the first take, in which the extra drastically built up her part, even creating her own melodramatic dialogue, Mohr recalls that Eastwood didn’t even shout “cut”, but rather grumbled “Hold on a damned second” and began stomping up four flights of stairs: the creaking of the wood and his heavy breathing being the only barriers to the stunned silence on set.  Confronting the woman, Eastwood said, “Sweetheart, honey, I cannot stress how little this movie is about YOU.  Christ, if I could have hired just your arm, I would have.”

There’s something comforting about hearing that Eastwood is the crotchety old fuck you hope he is.  That his on-screen persona from 90% of his acting roles across a six-decade acting career was at least partly representative of his true persona.  You can see it in films like Unforgiven, Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters From Iwo Jima.  Gran Torino, as both a film and a performance, is about as Eastwood-y as it gets.  His last three films, however, have all missed the mark, and show a director going through a drastic shift in his cinematic output. Starting with the not-quite-right Jersey Boys, to the disgusting American Sniper and now, the downright bizarre, Sully: Miracle on the Hudson, Eastwood’s directorial output has gone from somewhere between solid and very good, to just kind of crummy. 

Some call him a vastly experienced pilot, some call him the mastermind behind one of the biggest goose massacres in aviation history, but we can all agree that Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger was the pilot who remarkably landed a US Airways passenger plane on the Hudson River in January 2009, saving all 155 people on board.  On paper it seems great fodder for a film, and even more so when you discover that everyone’s favourite Tom Hanks plays the leading role, guaranteeing at least a half-decent film.  And that’s exactly what we’re given: something half decent.  And I don’t mean it was half decent like a shop-bought sandwich, I mean half decent in that half of it was fine, and the other half really, really wasn’t. 

Whereas Hanks’ performance is extremely watchable, and the reenactment of both the crash and the rescue is great, almost everything else in the film is really, really terrible.  The usually excellent Laura Linney (whose performance as Abigail Adams in the HBO series John Adams should give her a pass for life) is strangely off-key, as she struggles with a lazy script that reduces her to a moaning hen on the other end of a phone.  The wife of a pilot with four decades’ flying experience simply cannot comprehend that he has crashed:

“You’ve done what now?”
“I’ve crashed.”
“What’s that?”
“I’ve crashed, in the Hudson.”
“I don’t understand.”
“My plane, it’s in the Hudson.  The Hudson River.  I’ve crashed my plane there.  The plane that I was flying?  With the passengers and stuff?  Well now it’s in the Hudson.”
“ I’m sorry I don’t get it.”
“I’ve crashed my fucking plane in the fucking Hudson river. Turn your TV on woman.”
“My what?  I don’t understand”
“Forget it.  I’m fine by the way.”

The subplots play out like bad TV reenactments, particularly the stories of passengers caught up in the disaster, which are just ridiculously hackneyed and cheesy.  The air traffic controller, whose 1950s B-movie reaction to thinking he’d lost the plane is bettered only by his colleague, who excitedly tells him that they’ve all survived, and it’s “the Miracle on the Hudson!!”  Boo. 

The post-crash investigation, which forms the spine of the plot, is fairly interesting (again, owing to Hanks’ inherent watchability), but still plays out painfully predictably, and painted with the same happy stars-and-stripes horseshit that plagued American Sniper.  The closing line of the final scene, as well as the post-credits sequence with the real survivors, are tonally two of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen in a mainstream film. 

Sully received mostly positive reviews, so I could just be out of whack on this one, which is fair enough.  But I can’t help but feel that what’s good about Sully is pretty good, but what’s bad about it absolutely stinks.  At almost 87 years of age, Clint Eastwood might be starting to tarnish his legacy, rather than add to it.

Sully: Miracle on The Hudson website

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