Movie Review: Sully (2016) Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart

Aaron Eckhart Tom Hanks sully movie still

Brace for another Tom Hanks impact in this flight disaster drama based on true story

At glance, this may seem like a white version of Flight (2012) with Denzel Washington replaced by Tom Hanks in the leading role but Sully is based on a true event in 2009 and the pilot is no alcoholic. In Sully, Hanks (Bridge of Spies, Forest Gump, Philadelphia) stars as the titular veteran US Airways pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger whose plane’s engines are both destroyed just a few minutes after takeoff and had to instinctively decide to make a dangerous emergency landing on the Hudson River in New York. While he saved all 155 lives on board and is hailed a hero by the media and general public, the incident is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board (NSTB) to see if he’s made the wrong decision that could’ve killed everyone.

The film is loosely based on the autobiography of real Sullenberger titled Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters (2009) but in order to make the story more interesting, the film may be dramatised a little with the villainisation of the investigators from NSTB while exploring familiar themes of humanity vs. computer and the togetherness of the people in New York. It is a true heroic story that needs to be told but it needs to be told in an entertaining way, and this film succeeds in doing so as a movie and not a documentary.

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Directed and co-produced by multiple Oscar winner Clint Eastwood (American Sniper, Million Dollar Baby, Unforgiven), the film does well compelling the audience with its non-linear-like narrative by starting the story after the incident. For those who doesn’t know the full story of the flight, like myself, will find it highly intriguing to know if Sullenberger actually did the right thing. Flashbacks of what actually happened during the flight are shown twice in the second and final act with great effects that makes the moment so daunting even though you already knew they survived.

Hanks, who’s also a multiple Oscar winner and nominee, gives a gripping performance portraying the confident and relatable pilot with a glimpse of self-doubt to keep things a mystery. As an audience, I wasn’t sure he was clean and yet I wanted him to be. The dilemma then becomes whether his decision to land on the river still matters when there’s zero casualty, or should he still be judged if his decision was actually the most life-endangering one? This is exactly what the film needs otherwise it would’ve been a simple, straightforward story.

There are, however, some weaknesses in the script written by Todd Komarnicki (Perfect Stranger, Resistance). The dialogues are no-brainer and it fails to develop the other characters and their relationship with Sullenberger. There’s a lot of half-hearted family and financial problems thrown into the mix to tie the main character up with higher stakes than just his heroic reputation and job on the line. Aaron Eckhart (iFrankenstein, The Dark Knight, Thank You For Smoking), as co-pilot Jeff Skiles, seems to be just there as the supportive colleague apart from be used for emotion contrast against Sullenberger to clearly depict when Sullenberger is more worried than he should be and when he’s more confident than even the audience.

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There’s really nothing more that can be nitpicked about in this film. It’s an enjoyable Tom Hanks one-man show with crowd-pleasing ending, strong American spirit and nothing to really ponder about after. A good film and yet I wouldn’t need to watch it again.

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What I would’ve named this film: “Plight”

Malaysian censorship: Only one F-bomb is noticeably muted.

Second opinion: (Sorry, none this time. Went to the screening alone.)

Verdict: If you love dramas with Tom Hanks and true American heroism, you’d enjoy this.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

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sully movie poster malaysiaBased on: “Highest Duty” autobiography by Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow

Genre: Biographical drama
Running Time: 96 minutes
Director: Clint Eastwood
Screenwriter: Todd Komarnicki
Cast: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Holt McCallany

Malaysia Release Date: 8 September 2016
Rated: P13
Local Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures Malaysia
Production: FilmNation Entertainment, Flashlight Films, Kennedy/Marshall Company, The Malpaso Productions, RatPac Entertainment, Village Roadshow Pictures

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