It's the rare new movie these days which will draw me to a theater on opening night, but SULLY (2016) was such a film.
The story of the "Miracle on the Hudson," with Clint Eastwood directing Tom Hanks as Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, was worth the effort; it was a good film which I enjoyed very much.
Hanks is perfectly cast as the calm, quietly heroic Captain Sullenberger, who -- following a disastrous bird strike which took out both engines -- safely piloted his passenger jet with 155 souls on board to a landing on the Hudson River. Hanks is at his most moving when emotions peek through the professional restraint, particularly when he is informed that a head count confirms all passengers survived.
I also thought Aaron Eckhart was excellent as First Officer Jeff Skiles, wryly funny and very real.
Hanks' Sully seems somewhat more doubting and traumatized by the experience than we are used to seeing from the real Sully's public appearances; not having read Sully's book, I don't know if the film reflects emotional experiences unseen by the public or if these moments were a means of injecting a bit of drama.
I've also read concerns about how the NTSB was portrayed, but here I'm pretty sure that was a mild attempt to inject some conflict into what is, in the end, a very happy story.
There's no need to do anything to make the crash (sorry, "forced landing") on the Hudson more dramatic, and in these scenes the movie excels. We actually watch the landing twice, first as part of Sully's flashbacks to the event and later as the cockpit recording is played at the public NTSB hearing.
These scenes, including the subsequent evacuation and rescue by boats who quickly arrived at the crash site, are edge of the seat thrilling and extremely well done. Eastwood and his cockpit actors, Hanks and Eckhart, capture the professionalism which overrode fear and allowed the men to do an incredibly difficult job. I was particularly struck by a moment when Eckhart's Skiles looks over at Sully; you can see in his eyes he knows his life is on the line but he never questions his captain, just does anything needed.
Laura Linney is somewhat necessarily underused, as her only scenes are on the phone, supporting her husband on the other side of the country.
I'm not sure when the last time was that I saw a "new" live-action film which was only 95 minutes long. It was refreshing to see a briskly paced movie which covered all the angles of the story and then wrapped up instead of dragging things out another 15 minutes or so. Incidentally, the audience applauded at the end, which is something I regularly experience when seeing classic films but is a rare occurrence at newer movies.
Viewers should be sure to stay for the end credits, which feature photos of the actual incident and footage of a reunion of the real pilots and passengers.
HIGHEST DUTY, coauthored with Jeffrey Zaslow. The movie was filmed by Tom Stern.
For other enthusiastic reviews, please visit reviews by Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times, Lou Lumenick in the New York Post, and Leonard Maltin.
Parental Advisory: SULLY is rated PG-13 for some peril and "brief strong language." I highly recommend SULLY for older children who can handle the disaster aspect, as Captain Sullenberger and First Officer Skiles are admirable role models, professionals with the utmost concern for their passengers. The professionalism and teamwork of the flight attendants, air traffic controllers, and first responders is another positive aspect of the film.
The trailer is on YouTube.
Finally, some comments on the hot new trend toward reserved seating at movie theaters, which I experienced for the first time tonight. I've spoken with a few people who are fans of the idea; for instance, my daughter can get to a movie after work without much time to spare and know she has a good seat. I haven't been a fan of the concept, however, for several reasons, and tonight it played out pretty much as I worried it would:
1) I use prepaid discount tickets for all full-price shows, which cannot be redeemed online. I arrived at the theater a full hour before the showing but even so, the seat choices were limited because of all the advance online purchases.
2) The box office line moved glacially as everyone took time to deliberate on their seating choices; a line that should have taken five minutes took 15. Additionally, the electronic seating chart was extremely hard to read, with the row letters hidden in teeny-tiny print over the seats on the end of each row; someone in line behind me had to point out where they were! And when I got into the theater I realized the chart was "flipped" to a mirror image, and that while I'd thought I'd chosen a seat on the left of the theater, it was actually on the right.
3) The theater was not completely cleaned after the previous show, and my seat had trash on it. Rather than simply choosing a different one, as I would normally do, I had two options, cleaning it off myself or getting an employee to either clean it or change my ticket.
4) Although it wasn't an issue this evening, I meet friends at movies fairly often, and now we have to arrange to buy tickets together if we want to sit next to each other.
I love "new" technology when it works; for instance, I have the movie theater's app on my phone and have it scanned at the box office and concession stand to earn rewards. The reserved seating, however, only works for some people some of the time. Theaters need to address the kinds of issues I mention above if reserved seating is going to work for all.