Yes, Unforgiven and High Plains Drifter are unimpeachable, but between the likes of Outlaw Josie Wales, The Rookie, Mystic River, and—pending its arrival to cable television--American Sniper, it feels like we’re in the throes of a TNT Labor Day marathon right now. The aforementioned network doesn’t necessarily have to be TNT, and this is not a dig on old Clint, but it’s a certain quality his films share. They’re sturdy, economical, terse, and largely enjoyable, if not profound. That could end our Sully review right there, but why would we do that when there are at least 607 words left in the word budget?
Sully is a better procedural than a human story, and it’s undoubtedly my favorite film about a governmental body holding a regulatory hearing ever. No bullshit, Eastwood really digs into the minutiae of flight deck to air traffic control to flight simulations to NTSB hearing and it’s genuinely fascinating. Oh, this is a movie about a plane crash and/or water landing often referred to as the, “Miracle on the Hudson.” You know, Sully Sullenberger? It was just like...six years ago.
Anyway, Clint Eastwood made a film about that whole deal. It’s got like Tom Hanks in it, and Laura Linney, and mad character actors. Frank Sobotka is in it! And when the film focuses on the nuts and bolts of how this transaction is resolved, the almost frigidity with which this moment where 155 human lives hung in the balance is turned into paperwork, Sully does its best work.
The real drawback of this picture is the people churning around in this maelstrom. Eastwood is not here to bury Sully, nor praise him, this is a straight beatification. It’s incredible how every person in this film, outside of our shoddily crafted villain, is so good. Capital ‘G’ good, through and through. I want to believe the world is largely chock-full of good people, but films need to work as a shorthand for hard to articulate complexities, and in that capacity Sully fails spectacularly. Insomuch that Sully Sullenberger, in all the inherent goodness, is very shallow in his conflict. The resolution he seeks is a kind of self-serving justification. Where his exoneration is deserved, the film offers me nothing about the man to carry me with him to triumph. Instead, it transforms a real life man who made a difficult decision and did a miraculous thing into an inwardly focused caricature. But I guess this is supposed to be a feel-good movie, and only in an Eastwood feel-good movie are there multiple shots of planes crashing into dense urban blocks of New York City.
Can we talk about the weird politics of the movie? I really don’t care about Eastwood’s views; he made Unforgiven, so he can lecture all the empty chairs he wants and totally dub us the Pussy Generation (which sounds awesome, I’m so down). But in that, Sully is definitely about “The Righteous Man,” and the efforts to subvert said righteousness. Who is the villain? Governmental bodies and that damn nosy media. The NTSB especially gets a bum rap, which is bizarre to me. It’s important to not read too much into it—I understand a film needs its villains—but I don’t understand why the horrors of it all couldn’t live inside Cap’n Sully and be resolved through the scope of the many lives he saved. To that end, the most satisfying element of Sully, a needed antidote to all the reductive silliness, is the film’s acknowledgement that an act of heroism takes hundreds of people, not just the name later affixed to the events.
Last night after the film when I laid the TNT bit on my plus-one, she commented on how that’s a low stakes way to think of Sully. It’s not a genuine investment in the film, but a passive approach to art, a middling way to digest something that can be so profound. Maybe that should’ve been my review right there.
You can decide for yourself, simply check with your local cable provider sometime in late 2017.