There’s just no stopping Clint Eastwood. The 86-year-old director has just released his 35th feature film, marking his first collaboration with another Hollywood icon, actor Tom Hanks. Unusually for Eastwood, it’s a relatively subdued effort, much like its title character.
The character in question is based on real-life figure Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, a commercial airline pilot famed for the incident known as the “Miracle on the Hudson”. On the morning of January 15th, 2009, Capt Sullenberger was piloting US Airways Flight 1549 from New York’s LaGuardia Airport when his aircraft flew into a flock of geese during take-off, damaging both engines.
With no power and the plane falling steadily, Capt Sullenberger decided to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River – the tributary that separates New York from New Jersey. To the astonishment of everybody, the plane landed on the river intact with all 155 passengers and crew surviving. Capt Sullenberger became something of a celebrity in the days after the incident, and it’s here where Sully spends the majority of its time.
In the film, Sully (Hanks) is seen to be still recovering from the landing – though he has no physical injuries, his nightmares about what-might-have-been leave him unable to sleep, much like his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart). Additionally, an investigation by the National Transport Safety Bureau has found that the left engine was still running after the bird-strike, meaning that the aircraft could have made a safe landing at any nearby airport.
Sully is very reminiscent of the Robert Zemeckis film Flight, whose central character was also involved in a plane crash that threatened to smear his reputation. But Flight’s cocaine-fuelled, deceitful protagonist is far from the humble, likeable hero found here. Sully’s only conceivable sins are ringing people up in the early hours and the occasional swill of alcohol. In other words, Sully is about as innocent and inoffensive as a character can be.
Eastwood carries this persona into his directing, with very little in the way of controversial material. For that matter, there’s also no villain to speak of, no subplots, no twists and no melodrama. What’s here is a simple, straightforward movie which, at just over ninety minutes in length, doesn’t overstay its welcome. Tom Hanks, meanwhile, gives an unflappable performance as Sully – that actor has so much talent, he could win an Academy Award for sneezing.
A couple of years ago I had written-off Clint Eastwood as old and out-of-touch, believing his career to be at an end. After watching Sully, I am happy to find myself proved wrong – Eastwood still has that gift as a storyteller, showing a better appreciation for his craft than many of his younger peers. So long as he keeps his health, he should be adding at least a couple more classic films to his resume.
Sully is enjoyable not because it challenges or subverts the viewer, but because it doesn’t try to be anything more than a well-crafted, feel-good picture. And that’s just what people want to see right now.