5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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Forget what you know about Clint Eastwood as a director of slowly paced character dramas that expand to over two hours; while he returns to the recurrent theme of the biopic, his newest movie, Sully, pares the subject matter topic — Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, during what had to be the most dramatic period of his professional life — down to a muscular 90 minutes of precise storytelling. I don’t think I need to remind anyone what the Miracle on the Hudson, as the forced landing of US Airways Flight 1549, is about. And while the movie builds up to that harrowing event, Eastwood doesn’t tell his story as a straight line. In probably what has to amount to the single most frightening nightmare anyone living or working in New York has thought about he starts the movie by seeing Sully, flying US Airways 1549, reacting to his plane losing its engines. He tries to send it to the nearest airport for landing, flying lower and lower over the Manhattan skyline until he crashes into a building, sending the city into a panic reminiscent of September 11, 2001.

He then leaps forward in time to the fall out from the Miracle on the Hudson to the media frenzy that followed and the inquest from the board of inquiry. The board claims that there is comprehensive evidence that Sully had enough engine power to land the plane safely back in LaGuardia or Teterboro — but then, they’re clearly less interest in the heroics as in the liability for a lost plane. Scenes with his wife (Laura Linney), his co-pilot (Aaron Eckhart) pepper the movie as it plays on the emotional turmoil Sully has suddenly fallen into. However, the crux of the film — the heart of it, if you will — is that fated event that looms large over the the screen like a ghost that won’t die. Eastwood presents it not once but twice — first, in its entirety, which involves snippets of stories from a cluster of the 155 survivors. The build-up to that fateful moment is terrific, but more so the actual landing and the events that followed on the Hudson River proper. The second time, it’s at at the audio level to an audience — but we still see the event, partial, cutting the moment the plane landed on the water. Even then, it’s still horrifying.

What I find incredible is that Eastwood hasn’t lost his touch or gone the way south to create movies that send him into that “late period” where subject matter is either sub-par, or too indulgent to really connect with the crowd. Sully, muscular and lean, gripping and exhilarating, is his best movie yet. It’s a pity Eastwood hadn’t worked with Tom Hanks before — I wonder what kinds of films they would have created. Hanks is the perfect actor for this part, having played the Everyman in almost each one of his movies, While not looking like his real-life counterpart he brings the requisite pathos and gravity to his character. We don’t need to see more than this one chapter in Sully’s life to know the kind of man he is and Hanks, as I have stated, fits this role to a T.

In a nutshell, Sully is not just a textbook examination of courage under fire, but also in a way it’s a love letter to the spirit of New York. I challenge you not to get emotional when a minor character simply says to a distraught survivor, “No one dies today.”

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