Review: ‘Sully’ A Film That Should Have Soared

Sully is a film that’s bogged down by a narrative rife with gratuitous “Hollywood” storytelling. This movie (starring Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, and directed by Clint Eastwood) attempts to retell the circumstances surrounding the “Miracle on the Hudson.” Had Eastwood executed a more patient approach to telling the story surrounding the most important 208 seconds in Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s career as a pilot, this film could have exceeded all expectations. However, this movie was doomed from the onset as the extraneous portions of the narrative choked the life out of a remarkable human drama and left us with a lifeless 93 minutes to trudge through.

What’s confounding about Sully is the actual events on that fateful day in January are so mindblowing that any rational person would guess that it was the product of a team of screenwriters. Who would have predicted that an American Airlines domestic flight would lose both of their engines and manage to land safely in the Hudson River with no fatalities? Why was it necessary to deviate from the part of the story that matters? Instead, screenwriter Todd Komarnicki pens a narrative that keeps our focus predominately on a fictitious antagonistic aviation board and how Sullenberger (Hanks) and Skiles (Eckhart) have to deal with the pressure that comes with this type of inquiry.

Now, it is entirely understandable why Komarnicki would create this type turmoil for these men. Eastwood has always thrived as a director when his main characters are enduring some sort of turbulence. In American Sniper, Chris Kyle was such a compelling subject to explore because of the psychological trauma he experienced fighting in the Middle East. Gran Torino grabbed audiences because of Eastwood’s hardened war veteran character who is coming to grips with an evolving world. Each of these characters was shaped by actual events that happened in their lives. Why then wouldn’t Komarnicki and Eastwood follow suit with Sully? What’s more dramatic than cheating death and landing an airliner in the most unbelievable manner possible? That sort of event would not only shape Sullenberger and Skiles for the rest of their lives but everyone associated with them as well. Instead, we are force-fed scene after scene of them dealing with this concocted aviation board that appears more interested in blaming Sully rather than praising him. This type of artificial drama would choke the life out of any film.


What would have improved the quality of this film is a full commitment toward telling the story of what happened before, during, and slightly after “The Miracle On The Hudson.” We did get glimpses of that during the film. Some of my favorite moments were the scenes shot in the air traffic control room. To see the looks of joy on their faces when they found that the flight had landed safely in the water was magnificent. Seeing Sullenberger (Hanks) dealing with PTSD after the crash was an authentic moment that was startling to witness. However, these moments were few and far between. In spite of everything, Hanks, Eckhart, and Linney still, deliver predictably good performances. One can’t help but wonder what their performances would have been had the source material been properly crafted.

A couple of unexpected highlights for me were the cinematography and the score. The shots inside the plane were impressive and framed in such a way that made the audience feel a tinge of claustrophobia as the throng of people tried to evacuate the aircraft. My favorite shot was the one of Sullenberger (Hanks) sloshing through the plane frantically looking for any other passengers just as the rescue boats begin loading people on board. We could see pieces of the seats floating by with the camera tilted just slightly; it gave that impression that the aircraft is sinking slightly into the icy river below.

The score complemented the tone of this film. Eastwood composed a number that is a mixture of somber notes with a slight homage to Charlie Parker. It’s perfectly paired with the narrative and will receive award consideration down the road.

Overall, while Sully certainly has its issues, the film isn’t horrible. I get that it’s far from a ringing endorsement, but this one is more of a rental down the road than must see. Remember, it’s only September, and we have plenty of great movies just around the corner.

Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
I'm a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and have been doing reviews for many years. My views on film are often heard in markets such as Atlanta, Houston, and satellite radio. My wife often tolerates my obsession for all things film related and two sons are at an age now where 'Trolls' is way cooler than dad. Follow me on twitter @mrsingleton.