Combustible Celluloid
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With: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Valerie Mahaffey, Delphi Harrington, Mike O'Malley, Jamey Sheridan, Anna Gunn, Holt McCallany, Ahmed Lucan, Michael Rapaport
Written by: Todd Komarnicki, based on a book by Chesley 'Sully' Sullenberger, Jeffrey Zaslow
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some peril and brief strong language
Running Time: 96
Date: 09/08/2016

Sully (2016)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Wing Songs

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Clint Eastwood proved decades ago that he was a master filmmaker. Now he's 86, and rather than resting or coasting, he has made Sully, a film that's more vital, intense, thoughtful, and emotional than anything made this year by filmmakers less than half his age.

Opening Friday in Bay Area theaters, Sully is based on the true story of commercial airline pilot Chesley 'Sully' Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) and co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart).

On January 15, 2009, facing a double engine failure just outside of LaGuardia Airport, they safely land their aircraft on the Hudson River, saving all 155 lives aboard. It's a heroic story, and national news.

But the National Transportation Safety Board investigates, casting doubt on Sully's decision. They believe that one of the engines still had thrust. Their computer simulations, recreating the circumstances, show the plane landing safely.

It sounds like a minor movie — and, at 96 minutes, it is by far the shortest movie of Eastwood's directing career — but with a canny screenplay by Todd Komarnicki and intricate editing by Blu Murray, it becomes a moving exploration of the underside of heroism.

Sully tells the story out of order, returning to the incident a few times, from different points of view, from a harried air traffic controller, to passengers in the cabin.

Stuck in New York waiting for the Board's investigation, he phones his wife (Laura Linney) and two daughters, and worries about his future.

Characters occasionally hug and kiss and thank the captain, but he doesn't feel like a hero. He has nightmares, including a potent one that starts the film, and doubts.

Sully can't stop thinking about the plane, gliding dangerously low, or floating in the river; the look on his face suggests not relief, but something closer to eternity, a brush with death that nicked his soul.

With a vividly realistic design, the film's cinematic plane landing is truly devastating, but Eastwood gives equal attention to quieter, smaller scenes, such as Sully stopping to breathe before entering a hearing.

Eastwood's own personal touch is here as well. Like his masterful A Perfect World, Million Dollar Baby, and other films, Sully highlights the director's distrust of technology, instead championing training, knowledge, and instinct.

Mostly though, like the classic, masculine directors of the past, including John Ford, Robert Aldrich, Samuel Fuller, and his mentor Don Siegel, Eastwood turns in a film of superb craftsmanship and pounding pulse.

It's all here. Sully is a great movie, a movie just like they used to make, the way Eastwood has made them all along.

Warner Home Video's Blu-ray release is fantastic. It includes three bonus featurettes, running about 20 minutes each; one is on the incident itself, one is a biography of the real-life Sully, and a third is a behind-the-scenes look at the film. There are a few bonus trailers, but none for Sully. It also includes a DVD and a digital edition.

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