Film Grains: Sully (2016) by David Hart


Anticipation:    3/5     So, I’m not the biggest Clint Eastwood fan.  Frankly, I think he is a tiny bit overrated as a director.  He’s just very hit or miss, and after watching the trailer for Sully (2016), I was leaning towards miss.  However, he did wrangle the performance of a lifetime out of Bradley Cooper in American Sniper (2014), so I have hope.  But, I mean, Tom Hanks.  I made the mistake of missing Captain Phillips (2013) in theaters a few years ago. After that, and the rest of his fantastic career, Tom Hanks has earned my trust.

Final Verdict:    3/5   Sully (2016) is a perfectly serviceable, fine film.  I did find it a bit forgettable even just a day after watching it.  Again, this is not an Oscar quality film.  This will not come close to a top 10 list.  But everyone involved did a fine job with what they were given.


Sully (2016)is based on a book by the main character entitled Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters.  But, of course, we all know the story of Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger heroically landing his airplane on the Hudson River, and thus saving everyone on board.  The film version focused on Sully (Tom Hanks), with appearances from his wife, Lorraine (Laura Linney) and his copilot, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart).

I want to start with what I didn’t like. First, the film has a challenge in its main character.  Sully is a stoic character. That makes it hard to truly connect with him emotionally.  Frankly, if you had cast anyone other than Hanks, I’m not sure it would have worked. Hanks has built up such a cache of good feelings with the audience that he moves past that hurdle.  Additionally, there are a couple of flashback sequences that, to me, are completely unnecessary and feel like a bit of a stretch for time. My other big complaint is Laura Linney, whom I absolutely adore, but who is completely wasted here, in the role of the weepy wife. She doesn’t change the story and seems only to have been included because Sully was married in real life. The last issue, is timing. Everyone remembers the news story. The audience knows everyone survives. The film even makes the mistake of reminding the audience in the very first scene. This kills any tension that would normally be present.


Alright, let’s get to what I liked. The interactions between Sully and his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles are where this movie shines. The relationship makes Sully human. The stoic hero needs someone to needle him a bit, and to understand him. Aaron Eckhart says more about their working relationship with a smirk than any emotional monologue possibly could.  Hanks, of course, has his great moments. His genuine concern about his passengers and crew are palpable to the audience. Additionally, a moment shared in the hallway with Skiles near the end is probably the most moving moment of the film.

As far as the direction, Clint Eastwood does a relatively good job of not getting in the way of a simple, heroic story. One excellent directorial decision is to show the water landing numerous times, but from different angles. The film needs the plane landing to be the wow moment because it is the focus of the story. None of the landing scenes are awe inspiring if taken separately. But, piecing the entire event together over the course of the film helps the audience fully understand the impact, panic, and detail of the event. Eastwood also does a great job with Sully as he wanders in New York city.  Especially, the one fantastic moment involving a bartender played by Michael Rappaport, which is one of the few truly memorable sequences in the film.

Would I recommend Sully (2016)? Sure. Not a passionate recommendation, but you have a crew of wonderful actors and a capable director operating together at a decent clip. This might not be one you will purchase and rewatch over and over again, or even remember come the end of the year, but you can’t go wrong with Tom Hanks in a heroic role. Not every movie will be great, but Sully (2016) does a lot more right than it does wrong.

Sully (2016) trailer

Here is Pop Culture Case Study’s podcast episode on Sully (2016)

And if you don’t have enough Tom Hanks, here’s Pop Culture Case Study’s episode on Captain Phillips (2013)

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