Tom Hanks is perhaps the most gifted actor of our time, able to take any role and fully immerse himself in the character in ways that almost no other actor can do. And even fewer can do with the regularity Hanks does. He isn’t given to repeating performances or slotting himself into certain character tropes, unlike Robert Downey Jr. or Jeff Goldblum.
For this reason, it seems odd that Hanks’ portrayal of the heroic pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who famously crash landed a commercial airliner on the Hudson River without a single fatality back in 2009, feels like retreading ground for him. His performance is excellent and moving, as can be expected from the academy award-winner at this point in his career, but to any who have seen “Captain Phillips,” Tom Hanks’ portrayal is basically a continuation of the upstanding everyman with few, if any, personal faults.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is emblematic of that which keeps “Sully,” a film about a truly extraordinary event, squarely in the realm of “good but ordinary.” Clint Eastwood is a great director, Tom Hanks is a great actor, as is Aaron Eckhart, who plays Sullenberger’s first officer Jeff Skiles. Sullenberger is a great man, and the crash is a great story.
The film, however, is good. Not great.
Part of this has to do with the length of the movie. Though it is only 96 minutes long, it feels 20 minutes too long, considering how bare bones the story is. As impressive as Sullenberger’s deed is, it is relatively straightforward. Not much room for twists and turns.
The titular Sully is played, as I said before, in much the same way that Captain Phillips was, as a heroic everyman. However, it doesn’t work as well in “Sully,” as Hanks does not have a villain with the strength of Somali pirate Abduwali Muse to play off of. Sully is a hero for overcoming circumstance and adversity, not physical and present antagonists, and the film cannot support that throughout its running time. Although such antagonists are halfheartedly introduced in the form of investigators, these are relatively weak characters that exist primarily to facilitate Sullenberger’s speechifying and to prove how great he is.
Despite all my complaining about how the film is not great, however, it remains a quite good. The heroic everyman is a role that Hanks plays to perfection. Eastwood does do his best to keep the plot moving and make the important scenes stand out, and Eastwood’s best is really, really good. And the story is still a really good one. The score is excellent and perfectly compliments what is happening on screen, and the editing is as sharp as it needs to be.
“Sully” is a really good movie that could have been great, and that is it’s only real problem. Bordering on greatness is, in ways, worse than being just good, as that which limits the film from crossing that threshold stands out all the more. Nevertheless, for any interested in a story of good old-fashioned heroism, and for any fan of Hanks, this is a movie worth seeing.
Just don’t expect another “Captain Phillips.”
Final score: 74/100