Let me just say up top that I like Clint Eastwood, I like his movies and respect him as a director. I like Tom Hanks (you can’t really not like Tom Hanks), I like his movies and respect him as an actor. I even like Aaron Eckhart, even though I don’t like a lot of his movies I still respect him as an actor. I have no real knowledge of the true story this movie is based on, but I’d probably be on board with the real life figure Hanks portrays. That said, I’m really not on board with how Oscar-baity and unremarkable this movie is.
The film tells the story of Sully (Tom Hanks), the Captain of an American Airlines flight that landed on the Hudson River safely. The film sort of takes The Social Network approach of using the investigation surrounding the events to reveal the event itself from multiple perspectives. The main question of this investigation (which is internal not a court case) is whether or not Sully could have made the landing back at the airport rather than landing on the river. We see the short flight and quick landing through the eyes of some passengers, the crew of the plane, and air traffic control, interspersed with the trail and the current media buzz over Sully and his heroism.
The question has a lot of stakes for Sully personally, as it could make or break his career, but otherwise, we already know everybody survives so the investigation seems a little toothless. The investigators come off looking like the bad guys, because the only thing to investigate at this point is Sully’s decision-making and the loss of the plane. The structure of revealing everything in flashbacks is really the only way I think they could have made this into a feature film. The whole flight and landing didn’t take very long so to just show it linearly wouldn’t have taken very long either. We see it a couple of times from different points of view, giving it kind of a Rashomon kind of effect, although there aren’t a lot of contradictions, just omitted information. It is good to see the full flight from Sully’s perspective at the end, but the release of information is the only real suspense in the movie.
The rest is supposed to be an examination of heroism, which is pretty lacking in the film. They state out self-evident points in dialogue about how the city came together and Sully did a good job and everything… it’s all pretty obvious and while important and true in some sense, not news to anybody really. It also delves into some interesting points about computers vs humans in a crisis, but that really isn’t the focus and once again, doesn’t tell us a whole lot we don’t already know.
The showiness, if there can be said to be any, is all in the structure of the story, not so much in the visuals. We get a very workmanlike and classical Hollywood style from Eastwood here, which again, is fine, but like the rest of the film perhaps too familiar. I suppose the high point is the special effects for the plane, which are pretty seamless I have to say. Of course, that doesn’t really mean I have a ton more to say about it.
There are good things about this movie, but the unfortunate thing is that they seem to be things we’ve all seen before. Tom Hanks’ character is basically the same as in Captain Phillips and Bridge of Spies, an American hero who’s just doing his job really well. Which is a character he does well and it works, but it feels like been there done that at this point. That’s true of the movie overall as well, and I just couldn’t get invested in it. I really hope all concerned get a little more adventurous next time.
Long story short: 3/4 stars
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