Hanks lifts 'Sully' above its emotional detachment

(Center) TOM HANKS as Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' drama "SULLY," a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

3.5 out of 5 Stars
Clint Eastwood
Writer: Todd Komarnicki (screenplay) Chesley Sullenberger (book), Jeffrey Zaslow (book)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney
Genre: Biography, Drama
Rated: PG-13 for some peril and brief strong language
Recommended to: Those looking for a solid, but not exceptional, biopic.

Synopsis: On January 15, 2009, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) was labeled a hero for landing his commercial airplane on the Hudson and saving the lives of the 155 aboard. Behind closed doors Sullenberger’s reception was much cooler as experts investigate his actions and consider stripping him of his ability to fly airplanes.

Review: In October 2009 Fox Searchlight Pictures released “Amelia,” a biopic about Amelia Earhart starring Hilary Swank and Richard Gere. On paper the film was destined for greatness. Swank and Gere along with director Mira Nair (“Monsoon Wedding”) were shortlisted for Oscar nominations. The predictions proved to be false as the film opened to abysmal reviews and was a box office bust that managed to recoup less than half of its production budget.

Like “Amelia,” the hype surrounding “Sully” is built upon a great story and name brands Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood. Certainly Chesley Sullenberger doesn’t quite have the name recognition that Earhart does, but he does have the benefit of his act or heroism being a fairly recent event that dominated newscasts.

Rest assured “Sully” is far better than “Amelia” as Hanks delivers a solid performance as Sullenberger. Eastwood’s direction is a little too heavy handed, particularly during the film’s first half where there are moments that feel a little too cute and forced and the structure, which jumps around the timeline liberally and inserts dream sequences to try and help the audience get into Sullenberger’s head. The second half of the film feels far more coherent as the narrative becomes less congested and more straightforward.

Aaron Eckhart is decent as Jeff Skiles, Sullenberger’s co-pilot, but it’s a workmanlike performance; not an award-worthy one. Laura Linney is essentially wasted as Sullenberger’s wife. It’s not the size of her role, Sullenberger is isolated on the other side of the country and only communicates with her by the occasional phone call, that offends as much as the way she feels disconnected emotionally from the story.

Eastwood is a no fuss director. He tells stories without a lot of artifice. From time to time his style perfectly matches his material. “Sully” requires more nuance than Eastwood is willing to give it. Here the good guys wear white hats and the bad guys leave with egg on their faces. The human element, which is essential to this film, is lacking.

“Sully” is a good movie, but what I really wanted was a documentary, not a feature film. I didn’t really feel invested in the story until the credits showed the real Sullenberger’s reunion with the passengers that he saved.

I imagine that “Sully” will still attract a fair amount of attention during award season for its technical merits (which are excellent). Hanks might earn a nomination and I wouldn't complain too loudly, but if the film becomes an Oscar darling it will have more to do with the body of work that Eastwood has given us and not the film itself.

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