Sully (2016)

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Running at a lean and spry 96min, Clint Eastwood’s Sully isn’t so much a clinical bio-pic in the traditional sense, but an absorbing showcase of a man’s extraordinary professionalism in the face of danger.

On Thursday, January 15th, 2009, the world witnessed the “Miracle on the Hudson” when Captain Chesley Sullenburger (Tom Hanks) glided his disabled plane onto the frigid waters of the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 aboard. However, even as Sully was being heralded by the public and the media for his unprecedented feat of aviation skill, an investigation was unfolding that threatened to destroy his reputation and his career.

Tom Hanks underplays Sullenburger but in so doing he brings out the multi-layered human qualities in the man. This is about a man who has 42 years of flying experience and he knows the aircraft like it is the back of his hand. Here is a man who does his job to the best of his abilities and he does it well. He will tell you he is not a hero but simply a man who is just doing his job. From a man with no time he becomes the man of all time. However, he is shaken to his very core when the doubts start to set in as the NTSB rips apart his heroic maneuver. Is Sullenburger a hero or a fraud?

The story rests on Tom Hank’s abled shoulders who has built a reputation playing understated and reluctant heroes in Bridge of Spies and Captain Phillips. On first look Hank didn’t seem to put on his acting hat, but after a night of rumination his character continues to stay with me. His sullenly insular and taciturn manner displays a fully functioning problem-solver’s mind, calculating the probability of survival in that instance when the birds hit the plane engines. Thank goodness he trusts his instincts rather than the computer.

Hank isn’t the only star in the story. At 86, Eastwood has meticulously crafted an honest story we thought we already knew into a tense drama with little bell and whistle. His unfazed skill in storytelling is assured and Sully definitely belongs to the top tier of his pantheon of good movies that include Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. In Eastwood’s hands, the film flies above the usual biopic tropes and it feels like a homage to a modest man who rose to an extraordinary occasion and a salute to professionalism. It is a wonder the story doesn’t carry an ounce of jingoism and it is a superb amalgam of the loud and the silence and the human elements of a near air disaster.

The final star is definitely the plane crash. For a home-theatre enthusiast, the visuals and sonics are a feast for the senses. We get to see the crash and its aftermath from every physical and emotional angle. I can’t remember the last time I see a reenactment of a plane crash so visceral and real. This is the closest you will get to experience one without actually being in one.

I didn’t care much for Eastwood’s last directorial effort American Sniper because it carried too many skull-numbing and blatant embellishments, but with Sully he has redeemed himself. This may feel like a straight-forward story but the use of Rashomon-resque plot manipulation transcends the film above the usual biopics that you would forget after a night’s sleep. I didn’t forget this one today.

4 / 5

PS – If I am not wrong, Eastwood shot the entire film on IMAX, a first for any film. I regretted not seeing it on that format. Would have been quite an experience.

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