Eastwood’s ‘Sully’ lacks life, doesn’t quite take off

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Eastwood’s ‘Sully’ lacks life, doesn’t quite take off

In “Sully,” Clint Eastwood’s haunted and sterile docudrama of Capt. Chesley Sullenberger’s 2009 landing of flight 1549 on the Hudson, Eastwood has drained away all the superficial, heroism of Sullenberger’s great feat, but has also sucked the life out of it.

“Sully” is every bit an Eastwood picture. Instead of the rush of euphoria that the “Miracle on the Hudson” swept through a New York accustomed to only tragedy from the air, we get a weary parable that pulls the curtain away from a celebrated figure and reveals the trauma and sense of responsibility that lies in a regular man thrust into an unwanted spotlight.

Sullenberger, played with typical dignity and sensitivity by Tom Hanks, is not here celebrated with a parade of a movie. He is beset by demons and anxieties, and the almost comically harsh scrutiny of an aviation safety panel, which, relying on automated flight simulations, believes Sullenberger could have safely returned to LaGuardia or made it over the New Jersey shoreline to Teterboro.

Their snide, judgmental presence is there throughout “Sully,” as they try to second guess his decisions. It’s an exaggeration. The film’s climactic grilling of Sullenberger was referred to in news reports as “gentle, respectful and at times downright congenial.”

But Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki, working off of Sullenberger’s book “Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters,” had to find drama somewhere. The entire flight lasted less than six minutes. It was just 208 seconds from bird strike to the frigid Hudson.

How do you make a film out of mere moments, handled with preternatural calm? Eastwood lingers in its aftermath, as Sully remains holed in a Manhattan he has little love for. The narrative is fractured, flashing backward and forward, into the pilot’s past and even his nightmares. Hanks, white haired and subdued, finds Sullenberger’s essence not in the miraculous but in the mundane: A man doing his job, not so unlike his “Captain Phillips.”

“Life’s easier in the air,” Skiles and Sullenberger agree. Eastwood, of course, does too. Only being aloft for him is to be in the director’s chair, far from other concerns.

“Sully,” a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “some peril and brief strong language.” Running time: 96 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four. AP
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