Film Review

It seems more than mere coincidence that a film about a plane crash in New York is being released so close to the anniversary of 'September 11'. Based on a true story, Sully is, however, far less tragic than the much more infamous disaster. The film, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Tom Hanks, succeeds in portraying the events in a low-key and honest fashion - 8 out of 10 stars.

There was a time when mankind – with the few and far apart exceptions of Leonardo da Vinci and Roger Bacon – believed that flight was only possible for birds and deities. Very early in the 20th century, two brothers would prove this view obsolete. It is not at all surprising how fast the invention took off from there on – it became the essence of a new wave of globalisation.

It was also not surprising that aeroplanes were quickly relegated to a position in warfare. We even felt this all the way in Ethiopia, when we were unable to replicate our most valued victory of Adwa because this time around the Italians did not only come by land but by air. The aeroplane is a great invention, but it is also a very scary one.

Hollywood is often sly in marketing its films. I do not believe the fact that Sully, a film about an aborted plane crash in New York, happens to have been released so close to September 11 (the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attack on New York’s iconic Twin Towers and other places) is merely coincidence. But here it is, the 9/11 topic is back in the air, especially in the wake of recent New York explosions, and Sully, which is a non-commercial movie, is at the top of the US box office in its second week of release.

Andy Warhol once said that “everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.” Now it is said that everyone will be famous to fifteen people – and so the once well-known name of Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger has been all but forgotten. Hollywood to the rescue!

It is a normal day, and the 57-year-old Captain Sully, and his First Officer, are piloting designated US Airways Flight 1549. Suddenly, a large number of birds bump into the aircraft, causing both its engines to fail at 2,818 feet above the ground. Including the crew, there are 154 individuals on the plane. They are all counting on Sully being able to land them safely against such unprecedented odds. And Sully, a man with 40 years of experience in aviation, with no landing site in close proximity, undertakes the crucial feat of landing the plane on a river.

In an exploit christened ‘Miracle on the Hudson’, Sully grounds the plane without much of a hitch – there is no loss of life and no heavy injuries are sustained. Sully is hailed a hero and becomes famous worldwide.

His deed is also symbolic, as the incident takes place in New York, but the plane does not crash into any skyscraper. The merriment does not last long though, because someone has to be punished for what could have been a disastrous accident. Is it the airline that failed to anticipate the possibility of such a huge bird strike, the aeroplane maker whose engines completely shut down at such an altitude or the heroic pilot? A scenario where the pilot could have simply returned to the airport, instead of landing on the river, is concocted, and Sully’s reputation called into question.

The story is not told in the chronological order that I just recited it in, and that is one of the best things about the movie. It builds the suspense by first showing us the outcome of the incident, and how it affected Sully. Later, when the film finally gets to the main event itself, it is shown sombrely, without brandishing the scene with the use of a thumping score or showy cinematography. It is the film’s best scene, and it rewards us by dodging as many cliché plot elements as possible and without degrading the characters into oversensitive, unprofessional caricatures.

The movie owes so much of its tranquillity to Tom Hanks, who plays Sully. Unlike some other actors who like to be as noisy as possible when playing a role – like Leonardo Di Caprio in last year’s The Revenant – Hank portrays Sully in a manner that does not want anyone to notice. The pilot himself wanted his great exploit to go unnoticed, which is why he may seem to be somewhat uninteresting. What happened to him may have been extraordinary, but the man himself was no greater than an expert pilot who tolerated as little drama in his personal life as possible. And Hanks understands this.

Sully is directed by the honourable Clint Eastwood. Although something of a legend in the Western world, most of my Ethiopian readers might be drawing a blank. I am not surprised, because movie going, or even watching, is a very recent trend, and the esteemed Eastwood became notable way back in the early 1960’s.

He was a TV star back then, but his career never really took off until an Italian filmmaker, by the name of Sergio Leone, who had a penchant for Western Movies (which at that time were as popular as superhero movies today), cast him as The Man With No Name in his three acclaimed spaghetti Westerns. Eastwood then shed his macho cowboy persona for that of an equally masculine and unruly cop in films like Dirty Harry (where he utters the immortal “Well, do ya punk?” line) and Magnum Force. None of this proved to be enough for the actor though, because he soon took on movie directing. There were a few misses, and several hits, but his 1992 Unforgiven was true cinema. The film stands as one of the least self-conscious western movies about the nature of the world a cowboy inhibits. There were more great films to follow, namely Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Letters from Iwo Jima and the often overlooked Gran Torino.

Eastwood is now a whopping 86 years’ old. To be alive and well at that age is something, but to still be able to make a movie like Sully is godlike. Eastwood is now as rich as Crassus, world famous and successful in every which way a man dreams to be. His name will live as long as cinema exists.

So why does he keep making movies? What is he trying to prove? It is obvious he could never duplicate the brilliance of some of his previous films, and that he knows this of himself. I am not sure, but it is probably because he loves his job. A feeling many I know will never comprehend.

And so, it maybe that, since Eastwood is himself a man with so much experience – and sympathises with the protagonist as another professional who is being second-guessed by those untested – chose to make the film unambiguously pro-Sully. The protagonist is portrayed as a saint, whose deeds are, by the end of the film, deemed unequivocally correct. Eastwood may be sending a message to his critics, asking us to trust in him, because like Sully he has done his very best with the time, situation and material provided to him. Sully, the movie, is as good as it could be, and I agree.

By Christian Tesfaye
special to Fortune

Published on Sep 28,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 856]



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