Tis I, yond Frog. After a little Christmas/Birthday break, I am back and ready to review films for your entertainment.
What , pray tell, did I see this week?
First off, what is with this poster? The POV is from inside a sinking… airplane… and out on the wing… is Tom Hanks… fixing his tie?
Like “Job done here, I sunk the airplane”? Or “Step back everybody I’m gonna get this thing in the mo’fuckin’ AIR”?
It’s a terrible poster. It looks like what it is – they took one shot of him in the film and dumped into the most buzz-wordy poster they could get. “Plane” “Water” “Scary” “Tom Hanks”.
Sully is the umpteenth film from womaniser turned crotchety Trump-apologist Clint Eastwood – is what I would write if I had any integrity. But I don’t. I love movies. Do good movies mean you’re not a shit person? Not really, no. But I love The Dollars Trilogy more than possibly anything, Unforgiven remains a masterpiece and I genuinely think Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby are quite good. So Eastwood mostly gets a pass (artistically at least) from me, in the “Morrissey is a dickhead but I sure do like the Smiths” kind of way.
Anyhow, Sully is about the improbably named Chesley B. Sullenburger, who has the kind of character name that you might write after you fall down the stairs onto a bowl of alphabet soup and smack the floor in frustration a few times before you get yourself together. Yes, read it again, it’s not Chelsea, like you thought. It’s CHESLEY. And yes, it’s his real name. It’s all real. For Sully is…
BASED ON A TRUE STORY.
For those of you who don’t know, in January 2009, Sully became the only man in history to successfully attempt a water landing of a commercial aircraft, saving the lives of everybody onboard. It’s a truly impressive story, and on paper at least it sounds like a good idea for a film.
Is it, though?
Well… ah… sure, why not?
After seeing the film, I thought of Clint Eastwood like a plumber. He knows where everything goes. He knows what everything does. He puts the pieces into the thing and then the film does the thing.
That, however, is a badly worded simile, and does him much disservice. As my lovely Ms. Frog (a director herself) put it much more accurately and, well, visually – Clint Eastwood is like a watchmaker. He knows how to keep a film ticking. He knows exactly what parts are needed to do their exact job, lest the whole thing come to a grinding halt. If a scene feels like it’s over, it is, move on. If the first take works well, use it. If the story is told, your job is done. Done. Over and fucking out.
The best thing I can say about Sully is that the subject and the director are pretty well suited – as depicted in the film, Sullenberger is a ordinary man dealing with extra-ordinary pressure. Whether in freefall over New York or badly rotoscoped onto the couch with Letterman, Sully is out of his element for large parts of the film, and yet is a consummate professional and a gentle soul. He doesn’t speak much, or with much wit. He rings his wife (Laura Linney, doing Trojan work with a lot of non-starter dialogue), and their conversation fizzles out because they’re both a bit tired. In truth, Sully seems like he could be pretty boring in real life. And he may well be boring. But Eastwood has chosen the diamond centre of his timepiece with much care, and that diamond is TOM FUCKING HANKS.
Tom Hanks is the Meryl Streep of Men. He makes acting look so fucking easy, it makes me sick. He could take this film by it’s balls and strangle it to death – playing every moment like a cliffhanger, playing every wistful stare into the middle distance as a world-ending apoplexy. But he just doesn’t. He knows better. He plays a normal man. And he plays a normal man so well, and so deceptively simply, that we as cinema-goers just have come to just expect it from him. Tom Hanks is a fucking master. And he is wonderful in this film. He has one tiny reaction shot late in the game that is the closest both he and Eastwood allow themselves as an “Acty Moment”, and it eases back from the precipice so carefully that it is almost imperceptible. Instead, we have a normal guy, realising he did his job well, and saved all the people. It’s a great moment, and it’s beautifully handled.
Is the film The Tom Hanks show? Well, yeah. Hanks is the only character that is sketched with any real definition, and he carefully teases out the (relatively minor) arc the film affords him, covering only a couple of days worth of time. He is, however, ably supported by a small cast of character actor stalwarts including Aaron Eckhart as MOUSTACHE.
Aaron Eckhart has a moustache in this film, and it must be seen to be believed. It may well be the peak of all filmic facial hair. Aaron Eckhart’s moustache came to me in a dream the night after I saw Sully and told me not to worry, everything will be alright. Aaron Eckhart’s moustache made me a 3-course dinner once. Aaron Eckhart’s moustache brought down the Berlin Wall. Aaron Eckhart’s moustache is literally the best thing to ever have happened, ever.
Sorry, where were we?
Anyhow, the bulk of the story follows the investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board as they attempt to determine whether Sully and MOUSTACHE made the right decision in attempting the water landing, when there were at least two open runways available to them nearby, and blah dee bloo bloo bloo…..
If it sounds boring, well… yeah it is a bit boring, actually. But the film is a tightly wound little clock, and it economically doles out it’s information in stages. It is littered with small flashbacks that may seem irrelevant, but which come to build a complete picture – the first is a tiny 90 second scene of Sully and a man (his father? He calls him sir… is he his Father? Family Friend? Uncle? Man who owns a plane??)
It also has a full half hour flashback of the plane crash itself, featuring simple and careful evocations of the passengers on board – small character notes that are expertly issued and movingly wound together in the final sequence on the river itself. It knows what it’s doing, and Eastwood knows what he is doing.
As the film builds what steam it has to that aeronautical incident, and we see the knee-deep water creeping up the cabin, and you see one man hop out of the airplane and start to swim for shore only to panic, give up and return to the plane because it’s just too cold, you realise that it really was a miracle, of sorts. Not one person died. Not one! That’s mad, altogether. Not particularly dramatic, but mad all the same.
In the end, Sully is vindicated by the NTSB, and the film fades out on a weirdly terrible joke from MOUSTACHE, and we get the always welcome “End of a film based on a true story wrap-up subtitles with optional footage of the real person” (Here that optional box is well and truly ticked).
Will I ever watch Sully again? Probably not, no. Is it brilliant? Not really, no. Does it indulge in Latter-Day Eastwood-gets-to-do-the-music-too which is actually just two alternating piano notes over and over like all of his scores? Yes. Does it have two terribly written young women characters who try to kiss and hug Sully for literally no reason and I nearly died of second hand embarrassment for all involved? Also Yes.
And yet, there are many things to say in it’s favour. It contains a strong performance from one of the finest living actors, it is genuinely uplifting and not at all mean-spirited or cynical, and it is the work of an 86 year old American Icon, a workman who makes good, solid, watchable films. 2016 did not claim Clint Eastwood. He was too busy making films. That’s a good thing.