Movie Review: “Sully” – First-Class Realism

Written by Matt Butler September 16, 2016

sullybar640Sully is one of the few disaster movies about a disaster that wasn’t. Because of that, Sully is an unusually optimistic story -at least on the surface- than we’re used to seeing in these calamity-centered biopics. In other hands, Sully might have sunk beneath the weight of melodrama, but the underplay of Clint Eastwood’s direction and Tom Hanks’ performance keep the film afloat.  

And it’s a good thing too because, as if Sunday was enough to remind us, even good news deserves attention, something I’m willing to bet was a consideration and intent in scheduling Sully’s release date (September 9th). The heart of the film is its true-to-life assertion that despite all our awakened fears of urban cataclysm, there are still good and intelligent people working to ensure our safety. However, chaos and the human element are always at play, a fearful truth that Sully miraculously turns optimistic.

sully, tom hanks

TOM HANKS as the leading man he was born to, and continues to, play.

“I don’t feel like a hero. I’m just a man doing a job.”

But simple pat-on-the-back optimism isn’t what sets Sully apart from the biopic herd. It’s the deft maneuvering between true-to-life spectacle and true-to-life performances that instills Sully with affecting realism. The film is at its best when it lets the unfettered story take the wheel and at its weakest when it veers towards melodrama. Thankfully though, it never lands on that. Once in a while, you’ll catch some clearly fictitious dialogue along with the odd hammy acting, but for where Sully is supposed to be focused (Sully), it stays on course.

tom hanks, aaron eckhart, sully

AARON ECKHART’s Jeff Skiles mixes competence with unease, reaffirming the danger of the situation while also showcasing Sully’s leadership.

“Engineers are not pilots. They were not there.”

It’s a logical choice casting Tom Hanks as Chelsey Sullenberger. Not because he’s The Most Trusted Man in America (apparently), but also because he understands the boundaries of the drama at hand. Captain Sullenberger carries a heavy weight on his shoulders, but not the kind we’re used to seeing. It’s the kind of weight that breaks the mind before it waters the eyes. We see Sully’s mind drift off as he sees what could have happened, had other courses of action been taken. You can tell he’s a reluctant hero, not because of a moral compass, but because he can see, with astounding clarity, how he could have failed. While most of the cast is cheering him on, Sully is all but frozen in cognitive dissonance. Tom Hanks, no stranger to piloting doomed transport crafts, internalizes Sully’s conflict. You can tell he’s good at his job, you can tell he cares about his work, but his frequently shifting eyes, sharp movements, and uneasy body language display a man unsettled by true chaos. It’s the subtlety this movie calls for, especially with ‘Shot in IMAX’ as the selling point.

sully, airplane, cgi

The best CGI is the CGI you never notice.

“I’ve safely delivered one million passengers over 40 years and tomorrow I’m going to be judged over 208 seconds.”

And that’s the most intriguing part of Sully: the IMAX-touting. It goes without saying that shooting in IMAX is far more advantageous, visually, than select shooting or post-conversion, but with all the standard shot-reverse-shot cinematography in Sully, you wonder why they even bothered. That is until you see the plane in action. Perhaps it’s not a big compliment to say the CGI plane looks convincing -the best CGI is the CGI you never notice- but the crystal clear picture quality means the effects are going to age well. Also, much like the acting, the effects serve to instill realism. I can only imagine Sully in the hands of Rolland Emmerich, or someone of that school of thought. Sully is no spectacle, because it’s not aimed to be. The aim is realism, and that aim is achieved.

“Everything is unprecedented until it happens for the first time.”

Though at times, the binaries between Sullenberger and the NTSB do feel as such. It’s the lone hero against the establishment we’ve seen time and time again, only played with some subtlety. Its saving grace though is that it waves a cold hard truth: shit happens (a truth you might recognize from another great Tom Hanks movie). Yet, Sully doesn’t use this as an excuse, in fact, it’s potentially a major advantage. It’s Eastwood’s libertarian attitude that gives Sully an effective discourse on the relations of readiness, chaos and the human factor, and the overall subtlety that keeps the discussion compelling.

My Rating: 8/10

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About Matt Butler

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is a strapping young English Major with a fiery passion for the art of cinematic storytelling. He likes long walks on the beach and knows the proper use of 'your' and 'you're'. (Example: I hope YOU'RE having a wonderful time browsing our site, and I hope you enjoy YOUR time reading my film reviews. I wrote them just for you.)

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