'Sully' takes viewers inside the head of a heroic pilot

In this Clint Eastwood film, Tom Hanks portrays Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot who safely landed a troubled plane full of passengers in New York's Hudson River in 2009.

Sep 7, 2016 at 2:25 pm
Tom Hanks portrays pilot Chesley Sullenberger in "Sully." - Photo: Keith Bernstein / Warner Bros. Entertainment
Photo: Keith Bernstein / Warner Bros. Entertainment
Tom Hanks portrays pilot Chesley Sullenberger in "Sully."

As both an actor and a director, Clint Eastwood works best in the quiet. Whether in moments of complete stillness or in the heat of the action, the presence of Eastwood emerges in how everything — the hectic pace, the barrage of bombs and/or bullets, the punches thrown and landed, and the yelling — gets dialed down to a manageable level or sometimes even lower; down to the point where you don’t even need to hear yourself think. So it is no surprise that he would be drawn to the story of Chesley Sullenberger (played by Tom Hanks), the heroic pilot who, against all odds, landed a troubled plane full of passengers and crew in New York’s Hudson River. Sully just might be the perfect analogue for Eastwood’s efforts behind the camera. (Twenty-five years ago, Eastwood might have been in front of the camera, too.) Yet that would have been wrong for the movie, while Hanks is perfect casting.

In Sully, Eastwood spends an inordinate amount of time trying to place us in the head of a man who is not so sure of himself and his actions, despite the fact that what he did, in a moment of crisis, saved lives and made him a hero. The brief flight haunts Sullenberger. Although he is alive and well and safe, along with the 155 passengers who were on the plane, every time he replays those events he sees the plane crashing spectacularly in New York, taking countless others to their deaths. Hanks fits into this persona like a hand in a well-worn glove. Much like Eastwood has his particular star mode, Hanks has comfortably settled into the all-American guy role, the man of honor who does the right thing, but never without acknowledging the fear and desperation that drives him. Remember Saving Private Ryan? His Captain Miller led his troops into harm’s way, braving death every second. But what likely stands out, when we think of that character, is the moment when we see his hands shaking. The fear is alive in him; it is the drumbeat of his heart. That is what Eastwood gets so right in this retelling of Sullenberger’s story. He does the right thing in the moment, but then must struggle to appreciate just how right it truly was. That doesn’t come easily. Sully shows us how difficult it is to be heroic in today’s world, to trust in ourselves. It is Eastwood, once again, finding and working in the quiet. (Opens wide Friday) — tt stern-enzi (PG-13) Grade: A