Sully review

sully_xxlg-jpegSully is the worst film I have seen this year. There is no doubt that Clint Eastwood is a technically talented filmmaker (that is to say he has talent in the technical aspects of making a film, not that I am saying he is talented on a technicality). Like his previous film, American Sniper, there are some exciting and engaging sequences, but this film does nothing to justify its 96-minute runtime beyond an anti-intellectual polemic that glorifies some government workers at the expense of others, and is also a Trojan Horse September 11th film.

The film opens with Captain Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) crashing Flight 1549 into a building. Of course, it is a dream sequence, as anyone with a consciousness in 2009 was aware that the real Fight 1549 landed safely in the Hudson River with all passengers and crew sustaining only minor injuries. Sully is having a nightmare during the investigation, in which the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is attempting to determine whether the plane could have safely landed at any of the nearby airports, including LaGuardia and Teterboro. The film jumps around in time, showing us the events before, during, and after the landing on January 15th.


Going into the film, I did not know much about the incidents beyond what I had seen on television and online seven years ago. The film essentially paints the investigators from the NTSB (Mike O’Malley, Anna Gunn) as having a vendetta against Sully, which is never explained. Other than making sure the crew was following safety regulations, what interest is there in trying to prove he could have landed at the airport? I could see the airline being angry over the possible unnecessary loss of the plane, or the exposure to higher insurance or lawsuits, but the NTSB being depicted as having that motive makes no sense. Each piece of evidence they present is refuted by Sully and First Officer Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) based on their gut knowledge and experience, and the guys “just doing their job” are always proven correct. But from watching the film, it seems that the NTSB investigators are also just doing their job in investigating the emergency landing.

Here is where the anti-intellectual bent comes into play. The big climax of the film rests on the simulations being run via computer and with human pilots in flight simulators. It seems preposterous that computer and pilot simulations would not take into account the human response time, including the following of procedure, replying to the air traffic controllers (and confirming that there was an open runway so they wouldn’t crash into another plane taking off or landing). But the film treats this, along with the NTSB investigators not immmediately disclosing that the simulator pilots had 17 practice runs, as a huge “gotcha!” moment, correcting some wrong that never seemed like an actual threat. Frankly, this is actively offensive, and feels like it is distorting reality to fit the film’s ‘jocks versus nerds’ attitude (at one point, the computer simulations are compared to Pac-Man, a 29-year old video game at the time of the events of the film).


At various points, it seems that Sully is haunted by his decision, but this never seems like it is the result of harassment or undue stress from the hearings. Rather, he seems tired from his many media appearances, and the film wants an excuse to flash back to his days as a crop duster and military pilot. Also, he recently landed a plane on a river, so he might also be a bit preoccupied with that still, which is perfectly reasonable. The film also introduces a subplot that wants us to infer that things are a bit rocky between Sully and his wife (Laura Linney), but it is never actually a factor in the film whatsoever. All of these flashbacks, combined with the many many times that we see different angles of Flight 1549 (From the George Washington Bridge! Now a helicopter! Now a ferry captain! Now someone in their office! Now the flight attendants! Now the air traffic controller! Now some passengers that are going to play golf!) are vignettes completely unrelated to the investigation, which is the bulk of the film. It ends up feeling like the film nested to pad out its runtime. A great film about this event would really only need to be about 30 minutes long or so, which would be realtime.

But perhaps the most egregious aspect of the film is that it only seems to exist because Clint Eastwood did not want to make a film actually about 9/11. And it runs deeper than the multiple times that Sully imagines Flight 1549 crashing into various Manhattan buildings. The night of the 15th, someone from the pilot’s union is dropping off new clothes for Sully and Skiles. One of the hotel managers hugs Sully and calls him a hero. And the union guy says it’s because “it’s the best news New York has had in a while, especially involving an airplane.” BECAUSE CLINT EASTWOOD THINKS WE’VE FORGOTTEN ABOUT 9/11! HE HAS TO REMIND US IN THE MIDDLE OF A MOVIE THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH 9/11 THAT HEAVILY BORROWS SPECIFIC 9/11 IMAGERY! IT WAS A CLOSE CALL BECAUSE WITHOUT THIS POORLY-WRITTEN, JOVIAL REMINDER, HOW ELSE WOULD I REMEMBER THESE EVENTS? GET IT, THIS WAS IMPORTANT BECAUSE 9/11! Sorry. It really got under my skin.

On the upside, Tom Hanks does say the phrase “Scuba Cops,” and I’m going to spend the rest of my night thinking about how awesome a movie with that title would be.

Author: Ryan Silberstein

Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.

One comment

  1. The NYT say a that the NTSB ran simulations with and without pilot reaction times before any meeting with Sully and realized he would never have made an airport. njs

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