There’s a line early on in “Sully”—the new Clint Eastwood film about the now famous pilot who performed the “Miracle on the Hudson”—where he says, “I’ve been flying 40 years, but I’m going to be judged on 208 seconds.” The movie pretty much lives and dies by the same criteria. The moments of the movie that depict the harrowing river landing of Captain Sullenberger are intense and interesting. Everything else surrounding the moments are forced melodrama as seen in the most cloying Lifetime movie. Those 208 seconds feel worthy of adaptation; everything else feels about as forced as the water landing that inspired this whole story.
Whenever I first heard about this cinematic adaptation, I thought the same as everyone else: “How are they going to make this into an interesting movie?” The answer, unfortunately, is: They’re not. This is bad filmmaking: tepid, uninteresting, melodramatic garbage that only navigates between “boring” and “laughable” 90 percent of its running time. “Sully” has no reason to exist because it tells us so little about an event we already know, and the creative liberties taken are so hilariously staged it should leave the audience questioning the talent of Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks. The pedigree of the talent is enough to give “Sully” a pass, sure. But it’s underserving anything other than ire. This is bad, antiquated filmmaking with some shockingly bad moments.
We all know the foundation for the story: Sullenberger takes a US Air flight out of Laguardia airport, heading to Charlotte. A bunch of birds hit the engines and critically wound the plane. With few options and only precious seconds to make a decision, Sully decides to land the plane in the ice cold Hudson River. It’s an impossible choice, with disaster written all over it; yet, Sullenberger and his crew manage to pull off the “miracle,” and everyone survives. Sully becomes a national hero and is rightfully praised for, as he puts it, “just doing his job.” It’s a pretty uplifting story with hardly any drama to complicate it.
In lieu of actual villains, Eastwood turns the bureaucratic National Transportation Safety Board into a bunch of mustache-twirling asshats who rake Sully over the coals by claiming he was wrong and could have made it back to Laguardia to land the plane safely instead of perilously plunging it into the river. Basically, the entire dramatic crux of the movie hinges on whether or not Sully made the right choice—even though everybody lived and everyone with an ounce of common sense hailed him as a hero he rightfully was. It’s such a laughable bit of melodrama—like the kind of plot seen on the laziest episodes of a cribbed-from-headlines episode of “Law and Order.”
The other bit of drama comes from Sully’s wife, played by Laura Linney, who does nothing but whine at him in the shrillest of tones over the phone. It might be the most thankless lead female role I’ve ever seen. Imagine being a classically trained actress and the entirety of your performance is relegated to sitting in a kitchen on the phone, whining at your hero husband because you don’t have a tenant in your rental property.
There’s also a whole lot of terrible writing with cringe-inducing lines that make no sense. One of my favorites is when Sully’s copilot calls him from his hotel room and says, “Can you believe they charge $5 for a Snickers bar? I could bankrupt the airline in four bites.” There’s so many things wrong with that line. First off, they don’t charge by the bite; they charge by the bar. It’s not $5 dollars a bite. Also, I realize airlines run on razor-thin profit margins, but I think US Air can afford a Snickers bar.
There’s another terrible line near the end where Sully says, “No one told us we were going to lose both engines,” as he defends his choices in the world’s longest and least interesting hearing. Who would have told you that, Sully? The US Air team of crystal ball-using psychics who warn pilots of forthcoming disasters?
It’s rare that a movie of this caliber has so many gaping flaws, but like the robot baby in Eastwood’s muddled “American Sniper,” they are painfully obvious to anyone paying attention.