Skip to main content

You just got hugged by a total stranger.

Sully
(2016)

(SPOILERS) The only intriguing thing about Sully entering production was how Warner Bros could wrap a movie around a non-existent story (Birds! Brave Wing Commander Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger lands on a river! They’re all safe! – okay, that’s 10 minutes filled; curiously, with all this spare time, no one thought to tell the birds’ story, a tragic plotline Pixar likely wouldn’t go near). Half that poser was answered by Clint Eastwood taking the gig, a director who can stretch any given material beyond the bounds of narrative sense simply by omitting to employ an editor. The other half? Well, you have to sort-of admire the rigour with which the same crash (I mean, forced landing) is repeated again and again and again, as if it somehow merits the same level of analysis as the JFK assassination. Which was more than twice the length (the film, that is), never once became boring, and still could have been (possibly I exaggerate) twice the length again.


Sully isn’t bad as such, but for all that Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart are dependable and solid and all, and that some of the plot motors work in an appreciably cranking-up-the-clichés way – “Why don’t we employ Mike O’Malley as Mr Nasty National Transportation Safety Board guy, since he always plays a Mr Nasty, especially in true life movies? Why, look how nasty he was to nice Mr Smith in Concussion; he could be really nasty to nice Mr Hanks here, and so elicit maximum sympathy for Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who doesn’t exactly need much of the stuff anyway, obviously, since everyone simply adores him” – and that there is, in the sheer fact of the incident, a genuinely impressive kernel in respect of the ditching that retains interest, it is utterly, utterly wafer thin.


I knew far in advance, because of all the reviews, and the two-month transatlantic lag in release dates (Sully is doing better than I expected outside of its home turf, so brand Hanks must still have some life in it; either that, or everyone simply adores Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger globally), that much of the picture revolved around Sully’s perceived, exacerbated tribulations at the hands of the crash investigators, and that his PST of running through different outcomes in his head over what he might have transpired (disaster porn, basically) further beefed things up. But even with these attempts to inflate drama into a flaccid scenario, to suggest a dramatic arc, Eastwood can’t really bring himself to force the story too far into the bounds of hyperbole; it just isn’t his style.


I mean, he can’t really paint a portrait of a man who underwent extreme vilification when everyone in fact adoringly proclaimed him a hero, so the doubt has to be a sneaking doubt. As a consequence, the possibility that the simulations of the crash showed him to be in error by taking the course of action he did becomes the main dramatic thrust, the truth pivoting on Sully’s 40-year reputation and experience. Thus, the final scene gives us the works of tension-laden climaxes, of live pilot sims, of Sully launching into a marvellously praiseworthy speech, and of astonishing last-minute news that the recovery of the engines has confirmed Sully’s claims. And even then, Clint can’t work up that much in the way of excitement.


Indeed, much of this is so sheepishly half-slung, it could be a TV movie, particularly with Eastwood’s appallingly drippy, tinkly piano sugar-coating it. There’s even footage of the actual Sully and reunited passengers come the credits, representative of a culmination of all the prior revering affirmations of the wonders of NY’s finest coming together. As someone says, being nothing if not on the nose, but the movie’s nothing if not that, NY needed a positive plane story…


Occasionally, there’s a glimmer of another, more probing level; the suggestion of self-doubting what one knows to be true in the face of cross-examination and hindsight, for instance. But it’s only a glimmer, and nothing ever comes of it because of Sully’s staunch self-belief. Hanks doesn’t put a foot wrong, but honestly he’s less interesting here than he is A Hologram for the King; serious Hanks is reliable, but never astounding.


Eckhart rocks a seriously mighty tache, in a slight, subordinate role he makes the most of. Elsewhere (very much so), I hope Laura Linney was well paid because her role is entirely ghastly and entirely on the other end of a telephone.


That the picture is already being named on end of the year Top Ten lists (AFI, National Board of Review) either says something about the unquestionable elder statesmen status of Hanks and Eastwood or the ease with which simple wholesome platitudes and life-affirming incidents are gorged on by dupable critics. There’s nothing here that’s all that great, nothing here that’s all that awful (the score aside; although, with all the money thrown at computer games these days, you’d have thought the air industry could throw a few bucks at better flight sim graphics).


Clint’s 35th feature as a director is adequate, overlong (despite being a very short movie by today’s standards) and terribly inoffensive, so I guess it makes an effective contrast to the inadequate, overlong and controversial American Sniper. It’s a decade now since Eastwood’s made a really good movie, though, and with him heading towards 90, I suspect more average fare is in inevitably on the cards. Perhaps, as with his contrasting perspectives on the Pacific conflict, he could now turn his hand to retelling Sully from those seagulls’ POV?


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

They'll think I've lost control again and put it all down to evolution.

Time Bandits (1981) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam had co-directed previously, and his solo debut had visual flourish on its side, but it was with Time Bandits that Gilliam the auteur was born. The first part of his Trilogy of Imagination, it remains a dazzling work – as well as being one of his most successful – rich in theme and overflowing with ideas while resolutely aimed at a wide (family, if you like) audience. Indeed, most impressive about Time Bandits is that there’s no evidence of self-censoring here, of attempting to make it fit a certain formula, format or palatable template.

I never strangled a chicken in my life!

Rope (1948) (SPOILERS) Rope doesn’t initially appear to have been one of the most venerated of Hitchcocks, but it has gone through something of a rehabilitation over the years, certainly since it came back into circulation during the 80s. I’ve always rated it highly; yes, the seams of it being, essentially, a formal experiment on the director’s part, are evident, but it’s also an expert piece of writing that uses our immediate knowledge of the crime to create tension throughout; what we/the killers know is juxtaposed with the polite dinner party they’ve thrown in order to wallow in their superiority.

Oh, you got me right in the pantaloons, partner.

The Party (1968) (SPOILERS) Blake Edwards’ semi-improvisational reunion with Peter Sellers is now probably best known for – I was going to use an elephant-in-the-room gag, but at least one person already went there – Sellers’ “brown face”. And it isn’t a decision one can really defend, even by citing The Party ’s influence on Bollywood. Satyajit Ray had also reportedly been considering working with Sellers… and then he saw the film. One can only assume he’d missed similar performances in The Millionairess and The Road to Hong Kong ; in the latter case, entirely understandable, if not advisable. Nevertheless, for all the flagrant stereotyping, Sellers’ bungling Hrundi V Bakshi is a very likeable character, and indeed, it’s the piece’s good-natured, soft centre – his fledgling romance with Claudine Longet’s Michele – that sees The Party through in spite of its patchy, hit-and-miss quality.

Never lose any sleep over accusations. Unless they can be proved, of course.

Strangers on a Train (1951) (SPOILERS) Watching a run of lesser Hitchcock films is apt to mislead one into thinking he was merely a highly competent, supremely professional stylist. It takes a picture where, to use a not inappropriate gourmand analogy, his juices were really flowing to remind oneself just how peerless he was when inspired. Strangers on a Train is one of his very, very best works, one he may have a few issues with but really deserves nary a word said against it, even in “compromised” form.

You must have hopes, wishes, dreams.

Brazil (1985) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam didn’t consider Brazil the embodiment of a totalitarian nightmare it is often labelled as. His 1984½ (one of the film’s Fellini-riffing working titles) was “ the Nineteen Eighty-Four for 1984 ”, in contrast to Michael Anderson’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from 1948. This despite Gilliam famously boasting never to have read the Orwell’s novel: “ The thing that intrigues me about certain books is that you know them even though you’ve never read them. I guess the images are archetypal ”. Or as Pauline Kael observed, Brazil is to Nineteen Eighty-Four as “ if you’d just heard about it over the years and it had seeped into your visual imagination ”. Gilliam’s suffocating system isn’t unflinchingly cruel and malevolently intolerant of individuality; it is, in his vision of a nightmare “future”, one of evils spawned by the mechanisms of an out-of-control behemoth: a self-perpetuating bureaucracy. And yet, that is not really, despite how indulgently and glee

Miss Livingstone, I presume.

Stage Fright (1950) (SPOILERS) This one has traditionally taken a bit of a bruising, for committing a cardinal crime – lying to the audience. More specifically, lying via a flashback, through which it is implicitly assumed the truth is always relayed. As Richard Schickel commented, though, the egregiousness of the action depends largely on whether you see it as a flaw or a brilliant act of daring: an innovation. I don’t think it’s quite that – not in Stage Fright ’s case anyway; the plot is too ordinary – but I do think it’s a picture that rewards revisiting knowing the twist, since there’s much else to enjoy it for besides.

A herbal enema should fix you up.

Never Say Never Again (1983) (SPOILERS) There are plenty of sub-par Bond s in the official (Eon) franchise, several of them even weaker than this opportunistic remake of Thunderball , but they do still feel like Bond movies. Never Say Never Again , despite – or possibly because he’s part of it – featuring the much-vaunted, title-referencing return of the Sean Connery to the lead role, only ever feels like a cheap imitation. And yet, reputedly, it cost more than the same year’s Rog outing Octopussy .

I'm an old ruin, but she certainly brings my pulse up a beat or two.

The Paradine Case (1947) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock wasn’t very positive about The Paradine Case , his second collaboration with Gregory Peck, but I think he’s a little harsh on a picture that, if it doesn’t quite come together dramatically, nevertheless maintains interest on the basis of its skewed take on the courtroom drama. Peck’s defence counsel falls for his client, Alida Valli’s accused (of murder), while wife Ann Todd wilts dependably and masochistically on the side-lines.

You’re easily the best policeman in Moscow.

Gorky Park (1983) (SPOILERS) Michael Apted and workmanlike go hand in hand when it comes to thriller fare (his Bond outing barely registered a pulse). This adaptation of Martin Cruz Smith’s 1981 novel – by Dennis Potter, no less – is duly serviceable but resolutely unremarkable. William Hurt’s militsiya officer Renko investigates three faceless bodies found in the titular park. It was that grisly element that gave Gorky Park a certain cachet when I first saw it as an impressionable youngster. Which was actually not unfair, as it’s by far its most memorable aspect.

I don’t like fighting at all. I try not to do too much of it.

Cuba (1979) (SPOILERS) Cuba -based movies don’t have a great track record at the box office, unless Bad Boys II counts. I guess The Godfather Part II does qualify. Steven Soderbergh , who could later speak to box office bombs revolving around Castro’s revolution, called Richard Lester’s Cuba fascinating but flawed. Which is generous of him.