-Clint Eastwood returns with an overly dramatic, but sometimes thrilling, embellishment of a true tale.

Any time a movie decides to take on subject matter that’s based on a true story, we have to take every event within the plot structure with a grain of salt. It’s the Hollywood formula that relentlessly ruins the integrity of true stories and turns them into more dramatic, less factual shells of themselves. Normally, the kind of treatment that’s done to films like these, take The Imitation Game or The Theory of Everything for example, bugs me for the incessant need to take away from actual events. Yet, after watching Sully, I’m beginning to feel the opposite way, where the lack of dramatic heft added to the story takes away from a pretty decently executed drama.

If you haven’t heard of it, the film details the “Miracle on the Hudson” a surprise crash landing of an airplane with over 150 people on board, and all 150 survived due to excellent piloting by Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) after a bird collision left both engines in the plane without thrust. His first mate Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) is also partly responsible for the excellent decision making.

It’s not surprising that when a plane crashes into a river, the Department of Transportation (though the National Transportation Safety Board) is going to look into it. Agents from this organization are played by familiar faces like Anna Gunn, Jamey Sheridan, and Mike O’Malley. The remainder of our run time is a mixing of flashbacks of the incident with modern day Sully traversing the tough line of fire that he’s under in this open investigation. We get a hearing, some tough phone calls to his wife (Laura Linney), and some pristinely directed flashback scenes.

Eastwood is both the film’s strength and its weakness as director. He manages to craft some solid imagery and make the film work on its own merits for how interesting of a story it is, but he also ruins it by poor pacing and flashbacks that should’ve never been included in the final product. Eastwood also spares no expense trashing the government agency for the investigation, making it seem like the maligning of an American Hero, rather than the truth, which is that they were following protocol. This is a big problem in modern Eastwood movies, where he taints the story to follow his political leanings. It’s upsetting in this context.

Hanks does a solid job in the lead, but some of the nightmare scenes that are presented that include his possible post-traumatic stress about the incident aren’t written or acted all that well. Hanks’s charisma works on its own merits at times in this film, but overall, don’t chalk it up in the list of great Hanks performances.

I had a ton of problems with this film until the ending, where we see the full escape effort take hold, and then the final hearing that is used to decide whether or not Sully was negligent on these matters. This final hearing is extremely thrilling, relying on simulated flights and going toe to toe with Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn. After struggling with the dated and incoherent nature of this film for over an hour, the final act really sets in and saves it. Overall, it won’t be one of the crowning achievements of the year like many of Eastwood’s films, but it’s just fine for a small-scale diversion.

3 stars

 

Sully (2016)

Genre: Drama

Director: Clint Eastwood (Play Misty for Me, Outlaw Josey Wales, Sudden Impact, American Sniper)

Starring: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Anna Gunn, and Mike O’Malley

RT Score: 81%

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