Superman, you may now retire.
That wasn’t hyperbole, by the way. Tom Hanks, alone, saved his crew from armed pirates in the Indian Ocean, swiftly conducted a high-profile prisoner exchange on Glienicke Bridge and, most recently, got all 155 souls accounted for after landing an Airbus A320 on the Hudson. Despite the public heralding the experienced pilot’s action, members of the National Transportation Safety Board see it as a blatant disregard of protocol that endanger lives and rekindle the horrors of 9/11.
Now making his rounds on late-night talk shows, it amazes me how similar Hanks is to the real Sully in laid-back demeanor. Both men showcase prominence within their environment, the cockpit or the starring role, but they never place themselves above the population in which they serve, be it the passengers or moviegoers. Hanks channels his real-life counterpart’s humility with impactful efficiency while fusing a subdued quality to the character’s restlessness. The film’s low-key quality is also its biggest, and most effective, charm, making “Sully” a reverse “The Walk.” Both films may have happenings at great altitudes, but the story of the “Miracle on the Hudson” needn’t be high-strung to mine drama.
The only one to ramp up the dramatic factor is Laura Linney, whose three scenes as Sully’s wife lean toward “padding” rather than “emotional anchor” no matter how well the actress performs. Her being on the phone talking to her husband reminds me of Sienna Miller in “American Sniper,” another Clint Eastwood film. But without a scene showing direct interaction between the two—flashbacks or otherwise—Linney’s role could have been cut without regrets. I don’t know how significant Lorraine Sullenberger is in the source material, the book “Highest Duty,” but for now, her cinematic equivalent is immaterial.
Although tech-driven and CGI-heavy, Tom Stern’s Oscar-worthy cinematography feels natural. The imagery is straightforward but potent; all the airplane-related scenes are harrowing either through what’s happening or angle choices. Some of the latter, I believe, would easily revive the emotions of that tragic day. In that sense, the most affecting sequence would be the opening—showing the horrific outcome had Sully decided to return to LaGuardia—with haunting tracking shots and borderline-suffocating slow pans. Stern also uses the distinct gray tint prevalent in “The Hunger Games” and “American Sniper” that beautifully highlights the chilliness draping over New York and, of course, the protagonist’s iconic ‘stache-and-‘do combo.
From the trailers alone, it seems right to think “Sully” would be more along the lines of “United 93” or “Flight” in tone. Surprisingly, the film has plenty of humor, but they only pop up at the right times and are subtly delivered. And now that I’ve brought Robert Zemeckis’ aviation drama into the mix, it’s worth noting that writer Todd Kormanicki doesn’t delve deeper into the main character like John Gatins has. Even with a similar mold to “Flight,” obviously cocaine and booze-less, “Sully” has a clear-cut and expected trajectory that makes it easygoing. This might scream “TV material” for some, which isn’t wrong, but the film has a first-rate sound design and mixing that only big screens can do justice.
Although pain hovered over the past weekend, Eastwood has made a cordial and professional film about heroism and humanity that will undoubtedly lift your spirits. It also serves as further proof that Hanks is a living superhero.
And to know that he’ll save the world again in “Inferno.” Maybe. (Oh, he will.)
Tom Hanks (Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger), Aaron Eckhart (Jeff Skiles), Laura Linney (Lorraine Sullenberger)
Directed by: Clint Eastwood (“American Sniper”)
Written by: Todd Kormanicki (“Perfect Stranger”), Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow (based on the book by)
Cinematography by: Tom Stern (“The Hunger Games”)
95 min., PG-13
Release date: Sept. 9
8 out of 10.