While everyone involved does a good job, Sully is a movie trying to do too much with too little. The scenes of the crash, ahem, forced water landing are exhilarating. As long as it is about the plane and its abbreviated flight the movie astonishes. But that takes all of four minutes. The rescue afterward, in real time, took another twenty five. That gives the movie about thirty downright excellent, dramatic minutes. Unfortunately, Sully sort of flails to fill the other hour of its run time.
Chelsey Sullenberger, as played by Tom Hanks, is a quietly competent man. Hanks brings his usual warmth to the role, making Sully really feel like a man who was just doing his job even if he was doing it extremely well. The movie shows him plagued by doubts about his decision to land the plane in the Hudson, especially after the investigators contend that he could have returned to the runway, and shows him uncomfortable with all of the media attention, but that is rather thin gruel as far as drama goes. The recurring nightmares of the plane crashing in the city, with echoes of the 9/11 attacks, are visually effective at first, but soon overkill that exist just to keep the potential tragedy in mind.
Those four minutes of flight and forced landing are played over and again, from many perspectives. Each time it is enthralling, even though the viewer knows how things turn out. This is a movie about a tragedy that wasn’t; where everyone comes together and saves the day. It is heartwarming, but since the film starts after everyone has been saved it isn’t as dramatic as it could have been. The film occasionally tries to build up stuff around that, giving some lip service to introducing the passengers and giving Sully some things at home to worry about, but those don’t amount to much in the grand scheme.
The main conflict comes from the NTSB investigation, who suggests that Sully could have gotten the plane back to LaGuardia. Eastwood sets them up as comically combative with Sully and Skiles, the co-pilot, seemingly determined to prove that the crash was due to pilot error. That sparks lingering doubt in Sully’s mind, even as everyone continues to treat him as a hero. At least it does until he figures out why the simulations are wrong.
Other than Hanks as Sully, the rest of the cast is also solid. Aaron Eckhart is delightful as the somewhat more boisterous copilot, eager to step up and give the retorts that Sully isn’t interested in. Sam Huntington has a few great moments as the Air Traffic Controller trying to lead them back to a runway, who is despondent after Sully says they are going into the river.
Again, the crash and rescue are amazing bits of filmmaking, but the investigation stuff seems to be there to pad the movie out to its full length and to give voice to some off putting anti-intellectualism. There are hints of a how dare they attitude when it comes to questioning this movies hero, even if they are just doing their job in trying to determine why an airplane ended up in the river. Still, Sully manages to tell its story in an economical ninety or so minutes. When it’s good, Sully is very very good and when it isn’t good, it still really isn’t bad. It is worth seeing just for Tom Hanks or Eckhart’s mustache.