By Richard von Busack
Clint Eastwood’s often pretty good Sully is highlighted by the self-effacing underacting of Tom Hanks as Chesley Sullenberger. Hanks plays the Diablo Valley-based pilot as a dream movie hero, soft-spoken and reluctant to accept praise. Though nerveless in the cockpit, the fear only strikes him later on when he’s alone in the bath, or out jogging off the anxiety.
Winging to Charlotte, North Carolina from New York’s LaGuardia Airport, US Airways Flight 1549 encountered a flock of Canadian geese. The birds exploded both engines on the Airbus A320. Eastwood’s film suggests that the real ordeal was to come: Suspicious questions from government agents who believed that Sullenberger could have brought the jet home to one of two nearby airports, instead of splashing down on the Hudson River.
It’s all natural material for a movie. The silent, powerless jet gliding over the Manhattan skyscapes is bad enough on an ordinary screen; on IMAX it must be terrifying. Hanks handles the plane with fear swallowed down, leaving a rugged Aaron Eckhart (as Flight 1549’s first officer Jeff Skiles) to give up the larger reactions. As in American Sniper, there’s a nervous wife at home; a squandered Laura Linney doing the acting over the telephone that she was satirizing last May on Inside Amy Schumer.
The indication of government ill will has been criticized by National Transportation Safety Board officials, who don’t enjoy being presented as villains. Perhaps they shouldn’t have taken it personally. Clint Eastwood has been in an unusual business for more than 50 years, and I suspect he thinks that air agencies operate in the same way as the movie world does. Why else would the committees, in their beige meeting rooms, look so much like a film press junket in which half the critics present aren’t convinced by a story they’re hearing?
We all know what Eastwood thinks of Michael Moore. So it’s bemusing that Moore caught an angle on Sully’s post-Flight 1549 career that Eastwood neglects, in his documentary Capitalism: A Love Story. Rather than the victim of a nasty government agency, Sully was the man who asked the government to help airline pilots during a congressional hearing. The stand shows what kind of man Sullenberger is: Someone who saved lives, not just because of his own remarkable skills and guts, but because of sterling technology and the strength of regulations.