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'Sully' makes a splash

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Film recounts 'Miracle on the Hudson'

Most of the time, filmmakers have to work fairly hard to bring forth the drama when it comes to movies based on real people and real events. 'Based on a true story' tends to lean harder on 'based' than 'true.'

But what if the actual events are themselves unbelievable?

That's the case with Clint Eastwood's latest. 'Sully' tells the story of Chesley 'Sully' Sullenberger, the airline pilot who, on January 15, 2009, executed the emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River, saving over 150 lives in the process. The screenplay was adapted by Todd Komarnicki from Sullenberger's book 'Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters.'

It's the sort of story that, had the movie been made before the actual events, would have been dismissed as too pat, too implausible. It's a story where reality told a tale that fiction would never have been able to match.

Tom Hanks plays the titular Sully, a man dealing with the immediate aftermath of the traumatic events of January 15. Despite having saved the lives of every single passenger and crew member helped in no small part by his able co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart, 'London Has Fallen') Sully is haunted by nightmares in which his desperate gambit did not have a happy ending.

Complicating things is the ongoing investigation by the NTSB; lead investigator Charles Porter (Mike O'Malley, 'Concussion') is unconvinced that Sully's course of action was indeed the right one. The argument one Sully refutes unconditionally is that he could have returned the plane to an airport and landed it safely.

Throughout, Sully must deal with the instant arrival of the media's omnipresent eye in the eyes of the world, he is a hero. He is constantly besieged by cameras and reporters, as is his wife Lorraine (Laura Linney, 'Genius') at the Sullenberger home. In fact, we never see Sully and Lorraine in the same place our sense of their relationship is derived entirely through phone conversations.

Ultimately, Sully is left with little more than the courage of his convictions built upon his four decades of flight experience. He and Skiles might believe that they did the right thing, but did they?

'Sully' is less about the actual crash though the movie takes us through it multiple times and more about its aftermath. It is a film about a man thrust into a spotlight for which he is unprepared, a man who is viewed by the world as having performed a miracle, yet views himself as someone who was simply doing his job.

That workmanlike attitude permeates the entire film. Clint Eastwood is at his best when he's capturing ordinary men and women accomplishing extraordinary things in extraordinary circumstances; this story is a natural fit for him. And it's one he treats with sincerity and respect, painting a picture of a man who simply did his best when his best was required. It stays low-key even as it lauds and celebrates a fitting tribute to Sullenberger.

It comes as no surprise that Tom Hanks is exceptional here. Sully is the sort of role seemingly custom-made for Hanks and his inherent everyman qualities. And it isn't an easy portrayal finding ways to allow glimpses at the tumult below the surface even as the man maintains a front of clinical stoicism. It is seeing those ever-so-brief cracks that transform this performance from a very good one into a great one; another outstanding turn in a career filled with them.

Eckhart is excellent as well, bringing a needed sense of levity that balances Sully's introversion nicely. The scenes between the two particularly the intensity of their time in the cockpit are charged with an intense and palpable energy. Linney is great as well; the degree of intimacy and emotion that she and Hanks are able to bring to that relationship this despite the two never once being in the same physical space is remarkable.

The film's level of intensity is impressive, particularly when one considers that its central event is one where the audience knows the outcome going in. Bringing forth this level of emotional engagement is a credit to all involved, but especially Eastwood and Hanks.

'Sully' is the tale of a regular man performing heroically not because he chose to, but simply because he knew of no other way to act. It is a briskly-paced, ultimately uplifting story elevated to excellence by strong direction and a powerfully engaging lead performance.

[5 out of 5]

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