(12A) Clint Eastwood, 96 mins, starring: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Anna Gunn, Autumn Reeser
Sully is the kind of film that Howard Hawks might have made in times gone by. It’s a tale of quiet, unfussy heroism; of highly trained professionals doing their jobs in the most challenging circumstances imaginable.
It is one of its 86-year-old director Clint Eastwood’s finest and most unshowy features, just over 90 minutes long and as efficient in its exposition as Captain “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) was in crash landing his stricken plane on the Hudson river on a freezing January day in 2009. The engines had cut out after the plane was hit by birds but not a single one of the 155 passengers was lost.
On the face of it, there is hardly a story here. Disaster movies hinge on death and destruction. The images in Sully of the plane flying low over the New York skyline can’t help but evoke memories of 9/11, when there was a dismaying feeling of utter powerlessness in the face of impending catastrophe. We know, though, right at the outset that the crew and the passengers survive.
The ingenious screenplay by Todd Komarnicki isn’t just about the incident itself. It uses flashbacks and flashforwards. It’s at once a celebration of Sully’s deeds and a forensic examination of just how and why he behaved as he did. Like the classic Japanese movie Rashomon, it shows how many different versions people can tell of the same story.
From the point of view of The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), whose inquiry into the crash forms the major part of the drama, Sully might not be a hero at all. Their data analysis suggests he could have turned the plane back and reached the airport. In choosing to land on the Hudson, he wasn’t saving the passengers at all but was recklessly putting their lives at risk.
As an audience, we know intuitively that Sully did the right thing. (He is being played by Hanks after all.) The NTSB stands for the big, bad bureaucrats, the people upstairs who haver no understanding of everyday problems. In Hollywood terms, they’re the equivalent of the studio bosses, second-guessing and micro-managing the director’s decisions without realising the pressures that director is under. The plot here is heavily loaded against them. They fulfill the necessary role of villains although they are really just doing their job.
Hanks surely deserves another Oscar nomination for his performance. This isn’t just a case of playing another all-American hero. Hanks convinces us of Sully’s quick thinking efficiency and bravery as a pilot but also shows us his character’s inner doubts. He is coming to the end of his career. There’s an obstinacy verging on arrogance about his confidence in his own abilities.
As the NTSB asks more and more questions, he begins to wonder if, just maybe, he could have acted differently. Hanks also hints at Sully’s vulnerability. Like every other passenger on the plane, he knows that he was only whiskers away from death. He is stuck in a hotel in New York, thousands of miles away from his wife (Laura Linney) with whom he conducts hurried phone conversations. Their small talk can’t hide the fraught emotions that both are feeling.
For all his outward calm, Sully is clearly traumatised. One of the scariest, most juddering moments in the film has nothing to do with the crash. It’s when a distracted Sully, out jogging in Manhattan, doesn’t look where he is going and very nearly runs into an oncoming car.
Sully is Hanks at the height of his powers. It’s one of a number of recent performances he has given (alongside those in Bridge Of Spies and A Hologram For The King) in which he has played middle-aged characters assailed by doubts and difficulties.
Early Oscars 2017 contenders
Early Oscars 2017 contenders
1/18 The Birth of a Nation
Parker wrote, produced, directed and stars in in this historical drama about Nat Turner, who led the Virginia slave rebellion in 1831. If he isn’t at least nominated for most of the Oscars out there, it will be a shock, especially after Fox bought the global film rights for $17.5 million at Sundance in the largest deal ever seen at the festival. The Birth of a Nation went on to win the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award after earning the “most enthusiastic standing ovation of the year”. Expect big things come its release on 7 October.
Martin Scorsese’s passion project since 1991 is yet to receive a release date but rumours abound that it will be out in time for the Oscars. Based on a novel of the same name by Japanese author Shusaku Endo, the story centres on two Jesuit missionaries sent to 17th century Japan to spread Christianity and find their mentor Once there, they endure brutal persecution at the time of Kakura Kirishitan (‘Hidden Christians’) following the defeat of the Shimabara Rebellion. Silence sounds weighty, intense and full of hard-hitting promise.
3/18 Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi director Ang Lee has narrowly missed out on a Best Picture win twice now but this adaptation of Ben Fountain’s acclaimed novel could be the film that finally wins him some overdue glory. The cast includes Kristen Stewart and Vin Diesel with newcomer Joe Alwyn in the lead as 19-year-old soldier Billy, who is brought home for a victory tour after serving in Iraq. Told in flashbacks, the drama reveals the horror of what really happened to his squad in contrast to America’s flashy, patriotic perceptions. Out here 6 January.
4/18 A United Kingdom
Oyelowo plays Prince Seretse Khama, inaugural Botswana president from 1966 to 1980, in this follow-up to 2015’s Belle. Films about real life people often hold clout with the Academy when done well and with Gone Girl’s Rosamund Pike playing Khama’s eventual wife Ruth Williams, A United Kingdom should pull in cinemagoers. Khama sparked a global stir when he married the white Londoner in the late Forties and the first pictures from the movie promise beautiful costumes and cinematography. A United Kingdom will open the London Film Festival before its general release on 25 November.
Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton star as Mildred and Richard Loving in this historical drama about an interracial couple sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 for the crime of getting married. Out here just in time for the Oscars on 3 February. Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, Loving earned positive reviews from critics when it competed for the Palme d’Or at Cannes and received a standing ovation for understated, strong performances.
6/18 Manchester by the Sea
One of the best scripts co-producer Matt Damon had ever read, this tragedy about an uncle who is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies while trying to reconcile with his ex-wife stars Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and newcomer Lucas Hedges. It was bought at Sundance by Amazon for $10 million and arrives in the UK on 13 January.
7/18 Nocturnal Animals
Designer Tom Ford has cinematic strings to his bow, as proved with 2009’s Venice premiere The Single Man. He’s back in the chair for this drama-thriller starring Amy Adams as a remarried art gallery owner whose ex-husband’s violent new book begins to haunt her. Jake Gyllenhaal, Isla Fisher and Armie Hammer also star. Due in UK cinemas on 4 November.
8/18 The Light Between Oceans
Michael Fassbender stars alongside last year’s Best Supporting Actress winner Alicia Vikander in the big screen adaptation of ML Stedman’s 2012 novel of the same name. Derek Cianfrance is the man behind the camera for this story about a lighthouse keeper war veteran who rescues a baby girl with his wife after she washes up on an adrift rowboat. Then, in steps another Oscar winner, Rachel Weisz, as the woman who threatens to break their happy family apart. Out in the UK on 4 November - bring tissues.
9/18 American Pastoral
Ewan McGregor makes his directorial debut with this period adaptation of Philip Roth’s novel American Pastoral. The drama - set in the 60s - centres on a successful businessman (McGregor) whose missing daughter (Dakota Fanning) is accused of a violent bombing in post-war America. Out in the UK on 11 November.
10/18 Queen of Katwe
Indian-American filmmaker Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) is the director behind this long-awaited biopic of Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi. That Mutesi is played by 12 Years a Slave Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o is reason enough to anticipate this Disney-produced film, out here 21 October.
11/18 Free Fire
Ben Wheatley’s new action thriller will close the London Film Festival. Set in Massachusetts in the late Seventies, Free Fire stars Oscar-winning Room actress Brie Larson in the lead alongside Cillian Murphy. It follows the ‘heart-stopping game of survival’ after shots are fired during a meeting between Justine, two Irishmen and two arms dealers who are selling them a stash of guns. Expect ‘blood, sweat and irony’ with bravura filmmaking from the High-Rise director. Reaches UK cinemas sometime in 2017.
Jim Jarmusch’s Palme d’Or contender sees Adam Driver take the lead as a bus driver poet from Paterson, New Jersey. Each night after work, he has dinner with his wife Laura before walking his dog (2016’s Palm Dog winner) to the bar for one beer. Then one day, a small disaster strikes.
13/18 The Founder
Michael Keaton has starred in the last two Best Picture winners Spotlight and Birdman. Here, he takes on the role of ruthless McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc, with the film telling the story of the fast food empire’s origins. The ambitious entrepreneur on a journey to theme didn’t end so well for last year’s Joy, so it remains to be seen whether The Founder can live up to expectations as an Oscars contender. Out here 30 September.
The Weinstein Company
Clint Eastwood returns with Sully: Miracle on the Hudson, about the hero pilot who, in 2009, successfully landed his plane along the Hudson River after it was disabled by a flock of geese, saving all 155 crew and passengers. Tom Hanks takes the lead as Chesley Sullenberger in a biopic that sounds like it could tick a lot of Oscars boxes. Based on the autobiography Highest Duty, the thriller marks Eastwood’s first directorial effort since 2014’s American Sniper. Out 2 December.
Pablo Larrain directs Oscar winner Natalie Portman as late first lady and fashion icon Jacqueline Kennedy in what he has promised will not be another ‘classic biopic’. Set in the days immediately after John F Kennedy’s 1963 assassination, the film sparked great excitement among distributors after a seven-minute promo screened at Cannes. Release date unknown at this stage.
16/18 The Girl on the Train
The Help’s Tate Taylor is in the director’s chair for ‘this year’s Gone Girl’ about a troubled woman who becomes embroiled in a murder case after developing a fixation on a beautiful couple from her commuter train. Expect a film pulsating with creepy, voyeur vibes, a la Rear Window, based on Paula Hawkins’ bestselling thriller. Out in the UK on 7 October.
17/18 Florence Foster Jenkins
Meryl Streep has been widely praised for her turn as the 1940s New York heiress who couldn’t sing (and we mean really couldn’t sing) yet somehow became an opera singer with the help of her patient husband St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) and pianist Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg). Directed by two-time Academy nominee Stephen Frears, the film proved heartwarming and inspiring upon its release earlier this year and was embraced by both film lovers and critics.
Rebecca Hall set Sundance ablaze in January, earning five-star reviews for ‘the performance of her career’ in Christine, about the news anchor who killed herself live on air in 1974 after suffering from depression. Yet to receive a UK release date, Christine arrives in US cinemas in October, with Antonio Campos also one to watch for directorial accolades come awards season.
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
He retains the genial everyman quality that helped make him a star in the first place but late in his career, at least when he is not appearing in half-baked thrillers like Inferno and The Da Vinci Code, he is ready to take on emotionally complex roles.
As its title suggests, Sully is the dominant figure here. Eastwood, though, goes out of his way to show almost everyone else on US Airways Flight 1549 behaving in an equally admirable fashion. Aaron Eckhart plays Eastwood’s new but doggedly loyal co-pilot who keeps his calm at the most fraught moments.
The air stewards (chanting “brace, brace, brace” as the plane comes close to the water) are likewise thoroughly efficient in the moments of crisis. The passengers themselves refuse to succumb to hysteria and everyone else - from the life guards to the air traffic control execs - does their job too.
That’s one of the strange attractions of the movie. It’s a “good news story” which not even the NTSB snooping can tarnish. Of course, it would have been much better if the birds hadn’t flown into the engines in the first place but, in a world of chaos, inefficiency and buck-passing, the protagonists manage to remain level-headed. For once, human error is not to blame.
There’s an understated quality to the behaviour of the characters that evokes memories of plucky Brits in Second World War movies. Nonetheless, the reason the film has such an impact is that we are always aware of just how close to oblivion Sully, his crew, and passengers actually came. For all the professionalism of the captain, there’s that lingering suspicion that it was luck as much as fate or judgement that saved them.Reuse content