Do you think anyone out there hates Tom Hanks? Yes, he’s done some dodgy films over the years but he seems like a nice guy. And he bloody loves acting. But I guess his reputation probably has a few negatives. He’s never really going to get the chance to play a villain. Okay, he’d probably be happy with that but he must have severely limited the range of roles he’s offered. The only time he’s even veered toward villainy and it’s not really gone off. Nobody even saw The Circle and Road to Perdition was more complicated than good or bad. Tom Hanks trying to play a bad guy would be as disconcerting as seeing a film where Christopher Lee played a moral upstanding gentleman. It’s why he was the perfect choice to play Mr Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (review coming soon) and why he was the perfect choice to play Sully, the pilot responsible for the Miracle on the Hudson.
As we established on Tuesday’s review of Richard Jewell, Clint Eastwood is a stable director. You can always trust him to deliver something solid and watchable. On the other hand, he’s never going to be setting your world ablaze. He’s not the kind of filmmaker who will try to confuse you with technical whimsy but will let the story speak for itself. Which is no bad thing. Especially when you’re dealing with the spectacular stories of real-life heroes. Why not let the narrative do its thing and not worry about getting all fancy?
Eastwood is a champion for the real-life hero that gets dicked around by society. The people who put their lives on the line without question. He’s been doing it for years with varying degrees of success. What a film like this really needs is a great lead actor and, for Sully, Eastwood really did pick the right man for the job. Playing the heroic pilot who saved 155 people, Hanks’ innate charm really makes it easy to get the message: Sully is a good guy. One of the best. Something that really highlights just how evil it is for the airlines to try to turn his heroic decision from only chance to reckless defiance of protocols.
The story at the heart of this film is spectacular. On January 15th, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 set out from LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Three minutes into the flight the plane hit a flock of birds and both engines were disabled. The planed was at an altitude of about 2,800 feet and the two pilots, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and First Officer Jeff Skiles had to make a tough decision. Sully realised that there was no way that the plane was getting to a nearby airport in time to land safely. Instead, he prepared to take the plane down into the Hudson River. All passengers and crew members were evacuated without any fatalities. Sully was immediately hailed as a hero but the National Transportation Safety Board are claiming that he made the wrong call. That he would have had time to land safely on a runway. The hero is quickly fighting to keep his job.
It’s quite the tale and one that deserved to be told and remembered. Thanks to the quick thinking of so many people on that flight and near the landing spot, all passengers survived and their families were spared the pain of losing their loved ones. My only issue is the way in which Eastwood tells this story. There’s no subtlety here. It’s a straight-up fairytale with the whiter than white heroes and the super-evil villains. Then there are the constant nightmares that Hanks’ Sully suffers from. We see him reimagine the flight ending in disaster. Eastwood is clearly and, I’d argue, insensitively, evoking the feelings surrounding 9/11 to further push how important Sully’s actions were. It feels cheap when this film didn’t need to push things.
The sequences inside the plane are handled really well. The actual event only took a few minutes in total so we see it replayed from several perspectives. It’s highly effective and brings a great deal of emotion to proceedings. It also gives the Hanks the perfect opportunity to do what he does best. You really get to grips with the idea that Sully has such a small amount of time to make such an important decision. With his no-nonsense and straight to the point attitude, you also start to understand why Eastwood feels so connected to his story. If Sully had made films they’d definitely look like this.
What is less successful are the other bits of this film. There just doesn’t feel as if there was enough to justify a full feature-length film so there is a lot of dragging and repetition. You can’t help but feel that most of this film is just filler. When the focus isn’t on Sully and his heroic actions, the film just feels a bit obvious. Although, watching this film renews my faith in Tom Hanks after The Post. This is his film and, in any other actors’ hands, Sully wouldn’t have worked. Hanks doesn’t say or do a great deal but he manages to convey everything that man is feeling. It’s hard not to like Sully and you feel for him as he questions his actions. He’s not a willing hero and he struggles with the adoration of people around him. He also worries about whether he made the right choice and is haunted by the idea that he could have mistakenly risked lives by landing in water. Hanks is the thing that elevates this film from being just an obvious piece of filmmaking.