It’s incredible that Clint Eastwood can make one of his best films so late into his career and so soon after one of his worst, American Sniper. Both films demonstrate his uncanny ability to create and deconstruct American myths, but here his focus is on a far more sympathetic and defensible hero.
If you’re feeling mischievous it’s intriguing to read early scenes in the light of American Sniper‘s reception. An unqualified success – a water landing with zero casualties/Eastwood’s biggest box office to date – is picked apart afterwards and turned into a failure. Likewise you can see why the stoic, workmanlike figure of Eastwood was so attracted to the story of an average guy doing his job without fuss and to heroic results.
Tom Hanks is superb as Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, the man who miraculously landed a passenger plane containing 155 people on the Hudson river back in 2009. Hanks has made a career out of revealing the depths in unassuming everymen, and Sully is one of his best.
The story is equally unremarkable at first glance. Over the course of half an hour, a plane didn’t crash, and nobody died. Komarnicki’s brilliant script performs a similar trick to The Social Network in turning a bland premise into a gripping procedural examining the minutiae of human behaviour.
Komarnicki and Eastwood’s greatest move is structuring the film as an exploration of PTSD. Successful and unsuccessful versions of the landing repeat in dreams, nightmares, conversations and simulations, with one question resonating: did Sully do the right thing?
While most of the film is great character drama, the flight itself is pure thriller. Its grounded and unflinching portrayal of the terror onboard makes it clear how incredible Sully’s achievements were, and how close they and America came to tragedy.
CAST: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Anna Gunn, Laura Linney
DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood
WRITERS: Todd Komarnicki (screenplay), Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow (book)
SYNOPSIS: The story of Chesley Sullenberger, an American pilot who became a hero after landing his damaged plane on the Hudson River in order to save the flight’s passengers and crew.