Things I’m thankful for today:
- The stoic attitude I had all day yesterday. This isn’t to be confused with cynicism or apathy. It was simply a feeling of emotional distance that allowed me to work and proceed without worry, fear, or paranoia.
- The perfect weather last night. After pizza and wings, I took Asher and Judah outside to burn a healthy fire in the fire-pit and philosophize about the rides we’d go on together at SDC soon. (Judah had much to say about the Lost River.) Then we played some catch.
- Good dreams and thoughts lately about prospects to come.
In previous years, when the Oscar nominees were announced, I would immediately place all nominees on my Netflix queue, regardless of what they were nominated for. I was a little more discriminating this year. Sully had only one nomination–sound editing, which wouldn’t in itself justify a viewing. However, it’s a Clint Eastwood film, with Tom Hanks in the title role. It needed little further recommendation. We watched it last night. I’m not sure the movie was necessary.
Its heart is in the right place, and Eastwood handles his material well. As with most of his movies, Eastwood composed the theme, a sentimental, gentle piano melody that aptly reflects the dignified honor of the heroic pilot. We all know the story, although I think whether you were captivated by it likely depended on your proximity to the event. Sure, it dominated the news and we all talked about Sully for weeks, but it quietly faded into memory so the news could focus on its usual sordid stuff, and I think Sullenberger was more than happy to fade with it. It was a remarkable event: His plane, carrying 155 people including himself, his copilot, flight attendants, and passengers, had lost both its engines after flying through a flock of geese, and it appeared doomed to crash, unable to make it to the nearest airport. Sully’s only recourse, it appeared, was to attempt an emergency water landing on the Hudson river. If you know nothing about this event, it may be a spoiler to learn that everybody on that plane made it out alive, with only a few, non-critical injuries among them.
Sully begins with the assumption that we all know what happened. It refreshes us on the details, including a fairly intense recreation of it that’s interesting to watch because of the procedural aspects–Sully’s communication with air-traffic controllers, his decision-making under pressure, interaction with his copilot, the cool-headedness of the flight attendants. This sequence is unscored and has no unnecessary dialogue or emotional outbursts. It doesn’t need these additions. The thing itself is a terrifying marvel to behold. But Sully is more concerned with the aftermath–the NTSB investigation, Sully’s waking nightmares where he didn’t land the plane but instead crashed it into a skyscraper, his fear that the water landing was not necessary but that he could have made it safely to a runway and not risked the lives of his passengers and crew. Unfortunately, the investigation and the proceedings are not as intriguing as Eastwood wants them to be. I’m sure this is a hassle every pilot must go through after a crash or emergency landing, especially one of this magnitude. I’m also sure the real Sully was plagued with self-doubt and likely found the proceedings annoying, but as a professional, he would also have understood their necessity. The movie seems to think it’s making a stand that Chesley Sullenberger was a hero, but we all know this. What he did was nothing short of miraculous. He has our unbridled support. It also seems to want us to boo and hiss the NTSB. Can’t they just leave him alone, give him his wings back, let him get on with his life? I couldn’t get on board with that. I’m sure I hate red tape as much as the next person, but such is American life. The insurance company has the right to vet the incident and make their assessment. It stinks, but what are you going to do?
The film shows glimpses of what might have been in all-too-brief flashbacks to Sully’s early life, learning how to fly biplanes as a teenager and handling an emergency landing as a fighter pilot. This should have been a biopic, not what amounts to a courtroom drama. Handle those details in captions in the end credits. What I want to see is how Chesley Sullenberger came to be this man in this moment. He did something unprecedented under pressure in a situation in which he had almost no time to think. If we’re going to call this a miracle, let’s play that to the hilt. I want a drippingly sentimental, unabashed presentation of his life, from cradle to the Miracle on the Hudson. Let’s fully play out the drama of the event, unbroken. (As is, the film inter-cuts the landing scene with scenes of Sully’s sleepless fits of doubt.) Let that be the climax. Eastwood has made a competent movie (how could he not?), but it focuses on an area of the story nobody cares about. While we’re at it, let’s give copilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart, sporting an awesome mustache that should be the envy of every male viewer) his due. True, Sully was calling the shots, but Skiles was very cool under pressure and admirably stands by Sully throughout the investigation. I think this man deserves some of the biographical focus as well. Also, Laura Linney was almost comically underused as Sully’s wife, Lorraine. She didn’t even find a way to creep me out, like she usually does every time I see her. I kind of missed it. Instead, she’s a stock character, the wife back home who worries about her husband, unwaveringly supports him, and calls him every once in a while during the investigation to say, “You keen doooooooooo eet!” Maybe she was just happy to be in a Clint Eastwood movie. The man’s approaching 90, after all, and if he wants you in his movie, you better do it, regardless of the role’s one dimension. It’s on your bucket list, and you might miss your chance to cross it off.
As I said, this movie wasn’t necessary. It’s the type of safe drama you take your grandmother to because she “like that Tom Hanks fellow,” and in that it will have value for some. I’d prefer to read about Sully’s experience of the NTSB investigation, which more properly belongs in a book than a movie. And I really don’t care about the investigation. It’s boring and tedious.
Near the end of the movie, Diana turned to me and said, “It’s compelling, but it’s really boring.” Those were my thoughts exactly. If for nothing else, I’m glad I saw it so that this blog isn’t just filled with review of movies I loved.