Sully


Take me to the river.

Take me to the river.

(2016) Biographical Drama (Warner Brothers) Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Jamey Sheridan, Anna Gunn, Valerie Mahaffey, Holt McCallany, Delphi Harrington, Mike O’Malley, Kate Couric, Jeff Kober, Molly Bernard, Chris Bauer, Blake Jones, Jane Gabbert, Molly Hagan, Sam Huntington, Michael Rappaport, Jerry Ferrara, Ann Cusack. Directed by Clint Eastwood

 

January 15, 2009 was a watershed moment for New York City and all of the United States. On that day, US Airways Flight 1549 took off from LaGuardia Airport in New York City bound for Charlotte, North Carolina. It was in the air for just about three minutes when a flock of Canadian geese flew across their path. Several birds were sucked inside each of the two engines and the aircraft lost thrust from both engines. Without power, they had to glide onto a runway but the pilot didn’t think they would make any nearby airport. He determined their best chance for survival was to to make a controlled water landing on the Hudson River. He did so – without a single loss of life. That incident became known as the Miracle on the Hudson.

The pilot, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Hanks) was hailed as a hero by the popular media and the press. He and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Eckhart) had done the remarkable and saved a plane full of passengers and crew (155 souls in all) from almost certain death. But there were questions, questions the National Transportation Safety Board had about Sully’s decision making. Flight data showed that one of the engines was still turning, indicating that there was sufficient power in the engine to make it back to LaGuardia. Also, computer simulations showed that the plane could have made it back to the airport.

However, Sully knew through 40 plus years of flying that it wasn’t so. Doubting himself, his career and reputation at stake, he knows he will have to confront his accusers with the only things he has to defend himself with – his experience and the truth.

It would seem that the story of Sully Sullenberger would be the perfect fit for Clint Eastwood; after all, he’s one of the finest directors working and the Sullenberger story has that same resonance that Chris Kyle of American Sniper did. However, whereas that film was a character study disguised as an action film, this is more of a disaster film disguised as a character study.

Hanks doesn’t really resemble Sullenberger facially but he’s a good choice for the role. This is in many ways very similar to his Jim Lovell role in Apollo 13 although there are some differences we’ll get into in a bit. Still, it’s a portrait of a calm professional doing what he does best in a moment of crisis, just like the Ron Howard film. Hanks has that quality of calm and cool that he has projected throughout his career and while he is not as well-known for those types of roles, he still excels at them, quietly.

What I was a little bit disappointed about is that we don’t really get that much insight into Sullenberger himself. Much of the movie revolves around the investigation of the crash, and while we get scenes juxtaposing the hero-worship going on in the media and the public (which Sullenberger seems definitely uncomfortable with) and the questioning of his competence at the NTSB hearings, we don’t get a sense of what Sullenberger was thinking very often. He’s a notoriously private man in real life and so he may not have shared a lot of that (I haven’t read the autobiography this is based on, I must confess) for writer Todd Komanicki to work with.

The scenes of the crash which are mostly told in flashback (as well as nightmares that Sully has of the plane crashing into buildings) are for the most part pretty well-told, although to be honest special effects are not Eastwood’s forte. Still, the scenes are serviceable and give the viewer the “you are there” feel that is needed.

Of course, there were more folks in the cast than Hanks. Eckhart is rock solid as the co-pilot. Jamey Sheridan also shines as the head of the NTSB investigation. Laura Linney plays Sullenberger’s wife and sadly, she is depicted mostly on the phone with Sully which really puts some strain on the dynamic between them – you never get a sense of the relationship between them. I think the movie could have used some time with the two face-to-face onscreen.

Eastwood is much too savvy a director to churn out a movie without at least some merit (although Jersey Boys might well be the exception to that rule) but this one is a bit too clinical to be among his best. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a great story and the depiction of those 208 seconds from the time the birds were encountered to the controlled water landing are harrowing and amazing. Any Eastwood movie – even Jersey Boys ­– is worthwhile viewing. I like Sully well enough but I left it feeling that there could have been more – and should have been.

REASONS TO GO: The performances are terrific particularly among the leads. An inside look at an American hero – and why being a hero isn’t necessarily good news for the hero.
REASONS TO STAY: There’s little insight into Sullenberger himself.
FAMILY VALUES:  A little bit of rough language and scenes of plane crash peril.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  Ferry captain Vincent Lombardi, who was the first on the scene to pick up survivors, plays himself in the movie.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/11/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 82% positive reviews. Metacritic: 74/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Flight
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: ARQ

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Flight


Flight

It rains on the just and the unjust equally.

(2012) Drama (Paramount) Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly,  Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood, John Goodman, Brian Geraghty, Melissa Leo, Tamara Tunie, Nadine Velazquez, Charlie E. Schmidt, Peter Gerety, Boni Yanagisawa, Garcelle Beauvais, Justin Martin, Rhoda Griffis. Directed by Robert Zemeckis

 

We take flying for granted. You are far more likely to be killed in a car wreck than you are in the friendly skies. We trust our pilots to be sharp and skilled, highly trained to handle any situation and get us to our destination in one piece.

Whip Whitaker (Washington) is such a pilot. He is cool calm and in command on the outside, his aviator shades and uniform inspiring confidence. He is piloting a short flight from Orlando to Atlanta. The weather is frightful; a severe storm making the take-off anything but routine. But that’s not the worst of it; mid-flight, the plane goes inexplicably into a nosedive and nothing the crew can do can pull them out. Whitaker pulls off an incredible maneuver involving lying the plane upside down and manages to set down in a field. There is loss of life (four passengers and two crew die in the incident) but compared to what might have happened the landing was nothing short of miraculous.

Whip wakes up in the hospital barely remembering what happened. He’s being hailed as a hero and the press is in a frenzy, eager to get an interview with him. His good friend Charlie Anderson (Greenwood), a fellow pilot and head of the pilot’s union, flies to Atlanta to navigate him through the NTSB and other procedures that occur after a crash with fatalities.

Then everything falls apart. It turns out that the blood drawn from him routinely after the crash showed that he had alcohol and cocaine in his system. Which, in fact, he did – the night before the crash he had partied all night with a sexy stewardess (Velazquez) who had somewhat conveniently been one of the fatalities. They’d drank like fish, snorted coke and had lots of sex. In fact, Whip had even mixed himself a little cocktail of orange juice and vodka during the fatal flight.

In fact Whip has quite a problem; he could face jail time and lawsuits. A lawyer is hired for him by the union, the whip-smart (couldn’t resist the pun) Hugh Lang (Cheadle) who is charged with getting Whip off the hook because should he be found liable, so would the airline that hired him which would effectively put it out of business and put a good many pilots in the unemployment line, which the union decidedly doesn’t want.

But Whip’s biggest problem is his own demons. He can’t seem to stop drinking, although he tells everyone around him he can quit on his own, no problem. He resents even the thought of being called an alcoholic and yet his binges seem to come at the worst possible times as if he himself is crashing far worse than the jet he had previously piloted.

His estranged wife (Beauvais) and son (Martin) want nothing to do with him, but all isn’t hopeless – he has taken up with the recovering addict Nicole (Reilly) who seems to be serious about her recovery. Maybe this hook-up which was a result of his own kindness might turn out to be his salvation. With an NTSB hearing which will determine his future approaching, Whip is most assuredly his own worst enemy.

Despite all appearances to the contrary, this isn’t a movie about a plane crash although the crash sequence, which lasts twelve minutes at the beginning of the movie, is flat-out amazing and horrifying at once – so much so that if you’re planning to travel by air anytime soon, you may want to hold off on seeing this until after you’ve fulfilled your travel plans.

What this really is about is addiction and as harrowing as the plane crash sequence is, the rest of the movie following Whip’s fall from grace is far more so. It really isn’t very easy to watch as Whip gulps down liquor as if it were Kool-Aid and he continues to deny that there is a problem.

Very few actors could pull this part off properly – we need to be repelled by Whip’s actions even as we are compelled by his compassion. Washington is so likable and charismatic that we root for him throughout even though his character’s self-destructive streak is so profound that deep down we know he’s going to let us down. I imagine it’s much the same living with an alcoholic in real life.

The supporting cast is pretty stellar as one. Reilly, an Irish accent, is pixie-like and has an odd vulnerability that is laced with gravitas. Cheadle, one of my favorite actors, comes through again as a competent professional who is nevertheless out of his depth with Whip and the frustration becomes very apparent soon. Goodman, as a party animal who is Whip’s supplier, is marvelous and Tunie as a stewardess is amazing.

But it is Denzel who steals the show and simply put, this is one of the best performances of his storied career. He has to be considered an early front-runner for the Best Actor Oscar race, and I almost guarantee that he’ll nab a nomination early next year. It would be a major miscarriage of justice if he did not.

There are plenty of movies that show the horrors of alcoholism but few have captured it this well. This might be a good primer for those who suspect someone they care about is an alcoholic, but for those who already know someone they love is this might be a little too close to home. Just fair warning.

REASONS TO GO: Nothing like what you think it’s going to be. Oscar-caliber performance from Denzel.

REASONS TO STAY: Those expecting an action film might be put off by the drama. May be too close to home for those who are alcoholics or have someone in the family who is.

FAMILY VALUES:  The depiction of alcohol and drug abuse is pretty graphic; so too is the crash scene that opens the film. There is also plenty of bad language, a good deal of sexuality and nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is only the second R-rated film Zemeckis has directed (the first was Used Cars in 1980.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/23/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 77% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100. The reviews are solidly strong.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Days of Wine and Roses

AIRPLANE LOVERS: A very realistic look inside the cockpit of a jetliner, and you get a real sense of what it’s like to fly a commercial airplane.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Mission to Mars