Clint Eastwood can't land this overblown mess. Sully, the director's worst film since 2011's J. Edgar, is weighed down by too many familiar actors and rote dialogue. Eastwood captains this plane like the veteran he is—without flashiness and at his best when applying a discreet guiding hand. But the melodrama is struck down with clunky acting and the most obvious product placement outside of a Michael Bay film.
Everyone knows the story of commercial airline pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who in 2009 became a national hero when he landed a passenger plane in New York's Hudson River after a bird strike shut down both engines shortly after takeoff. It was a rare, uplifting story at a time when the other headlines were all bad news, and this film won't stop reminding you of that.
Tom Hanks jogs into the role of Sully and brings his naturalistic low-key style into play. He literally jogs through the movie; around NYC landmarks, cars, news reporters and the city's notoriously cold winter. It may be a metaphor for Sully's entire harrowing ride, or maybe I am looking too hard for depth in this otherwise light entertainment. Aaron Eckhart as Sully's copilot delivers one of his every-other-film really good performances as he disappears into his role. The rest of the cast are sore thumbs.
Clint Eastwood (or his casting director) stuffs the film with recognizable actors in walk-on roles that feel like cameos—Michael Rapaport as an anonymous bartender at a New York Irish pub, for example. Every interior scene seems to take place inside a different Marriott Hotel (Residence Inn, Courtyard, Executive Suites, etc.), and Eastwood can't help himself from displaying a Times Square billboard for his 2008 film Gran Torino. While Hanks and Eckhart deliver, every other actor feels like a fill-in for a staged re-enactment. Performances range from good to laughably bad and keep the viewer at arm's length for the entire film, which leaves the feeling of a Lifetime TV movie, not a film by an Academy Award-winning director.
When the screenplay finally gets around to depicting the actual flight accident halfway into the film, it is well staged and appropriately stirring. But the water landing is neither the opening nor closing of this film. The climax is a Federal Aviation Administration hearing into Sully's decision to land in the river rather than turn around. This sets up an improbable, cheesy standoff over the findings that elicits plenty of grandstanding and even a patriotic tear.
Critic's Grade: C-
SEE IT: Sully is rated PG-13. It opens Friday at Cedar Hills, Clackamas, Eastport, Vancouver.