Man Seeking Movies: Tom Hanks is an American hero in the understated ‘Sully.’

The only thing better than the mustaches in “Sully” is the landing itself.

By Jack Cronin | Sept. 14, 2016

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On January 15, 2009, a passenger jet flown by Captain Chesley Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles made an emergency landing in the Hudson River. Miraculously, all 155 individuals aboard the plane survived the landing and safely evacuated as it sank into the river. Captain Sullenberger, nicknamed “Sully”, was immediately praised as an American hero.

Directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Todd Komarnicki, who adapted the story from Captain Sullenberger’s memoir, Sully is the dramatic portrayal of the “Miracle on the Hudson.” The film’s primary focus, however, is the event’s aftermath. As Sully is whisked through a media whirlwind and touted as a hero, an investigation into the emergency landing suggests that the plane may have been able to return to the runway. Thus the question arises: is Sully a hero or a fraud?

Of all the people asking this question, the one who seems most rattled by it is Sully himself. Played by an aged Tom Hanks sporting white hair and a mustache, the titular captain exhibits PTSD that prompts him to relive the experience again and again through nightmares, flashbacks and interviews. His only companion in the midst of all this is his charming co-pilot, First Officer Jeffrey Skiles (Aaron Eckhart, with perhaps the best mustache to hit theaters in 2016).

It often feels like we take Tom Hanks’ work for granted, especially as he ages. To be fair, he spoils us. Whether he is fighting in wars or dancing in Carly Rae Jepsen music videos, the man delivers charming, magnetic performances time and time again.

And Sully is no exception. Hanks brings his distinctive everyday persona without ever sacrificing his charisma. He excels as a man who shies away from the limelight, like Captain Sullenberger. Without doing anything flashy, Hanks’ understated character work is magnificent whether he’s exhibiting discomfort during an interview or subtle confusion and panic during the emergency landing.

Sully’s other working parts may not be as great as Tom Hanks, but they’re still pretty good.

The narrative is smartly set in the aftermath and investigation of the emergency landing. Stopping and starting with flashbacks, nightmares and Sully’s hallucinations of what could have happened, the structure allows the captain to grapple with his trauma and doubt in a very natural way.

Likewise, the several sequences in which the plane lands are remarkably evocative and often reminiscent of the terror attacks on 9/11. Images of the passenger jet’s low altitude and close proximity to New York City remind viewers how much was at stake during the landing. And the shots from inside the plane are even better, as the flight attendants’ reiteration of instructions to “Get down! Stay down!” induces goosebumps.

Other writing aspects don’t live up to the quality of the rest of the movie, unfortunately. Characters are often a bit forthright with their feelings, to an extent that feels unnatural. Sully is also given an unnecessary antagonist with the investigators at U.S. Airways who, for whatever reason, act as though they are trying to frame Captain Sullenberger for wrongfully risking the lives of his passengers by landing in the Hudson.

But Sully is still a pretty good movie. The combination of Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks offers a thoughtful examination of what makes an American hero. It’s not necessarily a must-see, but it’s definitely worth going to.

MOVE gives Sully 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Edited by: Katie Rosso | krosso@themaneater.com

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