Exclusive Interview with April Mullen on Her Film ‘Wander’

Even though we are still in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic, there are still new movies arriving to us in theaters (those which are open anyway) and/or to our own television screens thanks to On Demand and various digital platforms. One such movie is “Wander,” a thriller starring Aaron Eckhart (“The Dark Knight”) as Arthur Bretnik, a private investigator who live in a rusty old trailer out in the middle of nowhere. We soon learn he is still grieving the loss of his daughter who was killed in a horrific car accident which left his wife completely catatonic. The perpetrators of this accident were never found, and he remains determined to find them.

One day, he is met by a woman who pays him to look into the death of her daughter who also looks to have been killed in a car accident, but the mother is not convinced this was the case. In the process, he uncovers a conspiracy which links to other cases of people killed in a similar fashion as well as to his daughter’s death, and he becomes infinitely determined to uncover it for all to see. But with his troubled past and a history of mental illness, one has to wonder if Arthur is really seeing the truth out there, or if his mind is playing tricks on him. “Wander” also stars Tommy Lee Jones, Heather Graham and Katheryn Winnick.

Directing “Wander” is April Mullen, a highly creative Anishinaabe Algonquin (Indigenous) filmmaker who is known for her passion, her bold visuals, and an ambitious shooting style which is truly amazing. With “Dead Before Dawn 3D,” she became the first woman and the youngest person to direct a live action stereoscopic 3D feature film, and it was awarded the Perron Award for its technological achievement. Her other directorial efforts include the erotic romantic drama “Below Her Mouth” which she filmed with an all-female production crew, and the action thriller “88” which stars Katharine Isabelle and Christopher Lloyd.

I was lucky enough to get a chance to talk with April Mullen about “Wander” recently, and in her director’s statement, she described the film as being a journey towards a truth unseen by most, and one hard to face. In addition, she also sees it as a critique of sanctioned government surveillance which has led to the displacement of many indigenous people through no fault of their own. We talked about this and more in our interview below.

April Mullen: Are you the marathoner runner himself, or did somebody else run a marathon?

Ben Kenber: (Laughs) I am indeed the marathon runner. I have run the full Los Angeles Marathon (26.2 miles) eight years in a row.

AM: Awesome! I just had to ask. I just looked at the (website) byline (“Cinematic Musings from a Movie Lover and Marathon Runner”) and I loved it. I looked at your website and I was like, this is wicked!

BK: I did not run the LA Marathon this year, but I am hoping to come back to it once this coronavirus pandemic has finally ended.

AM: You better because it pumps me up.

BK: Thank you. “Wander” really held my attention to the very end. This is always tricky to pull off especially with one like this which deliberately messes with your mind. When were you first introduced to the screenplay by Tim Doiron?

AM: Tim Doiron and I go way back. We started working and making independent films together 20 years ago. We come together and we’re like, what do we want to make next? That’s a very messy and exciting day. Five years ago, we wanted to create something with a main character who was really dealing with grief, loss, mental health issues and a huge amount of paranoia when it comes to conspiracies and government surveillance and anxiety, and of how to over come that. And then we thought, how are we going to bring that truth and that character to a world that’s commercial and viable for the entertainment industry (laughs). The backdrop was the conspiracy, the podcast, the chip technology, border control and my inner side of the truth; that indigenous women, 2Spirited warriors, BIPOC and displaced people have always been a continual target and victim of governmental subjugation and violent practices. (We went about) exposing that in a tight narrative through the eyes of one single character which is an unreliable narrator like Arthur. So, all of those themes became our mixing pot and then the rest is history, but it wasn’t as easy or smooth as we originally thought. We were like, this movie is going to be very straight forward, but of course it is so much more complex than we had hoped. But hey, we made a movie and that’s what it’s about (laughs).

“Wander” film by Wango Films

BK: Exactly. Aaron Eckhart is terrific here. He has to run a gamut of being in a state of grief, but he is also a bit crazy as well. Did you and Aaron had to measure out crazy and grief-stricken he had to look throughout shooting?

AM: We had an unbelievable working relationship. We were attached at the hip. We could communicate through our eyes and even our physicality on set. I was never far away. I was maybe three feet away from him. He was on set every day, every second and in every frame of the movie. He brought 150% and was beyond dedicated. I think this role was so different and far removed from anything else he has ever played. When he read the script, he completely resonated with Arthur. Aaron himself is totally into conspiracies, podcasts and the dark web. He always said, if you’re not paranoid, you should be. We were riffing on conspiracies and chem trails. It was unbelievable how much material resonated with him. He came from a really strong place of truth, and then Tim’s experience with mental health issues also rang from a place of truth. So, my job was just to make all of those things come together and make Aaron feel really comfortable to take major leaps and capture that lightning in a bottle that he has. We went off script and we went off locations. Sometimes it would just be him and I. He would be in a car and I would be operating the camera. We were able to do that because the film was so small, but I knew Aaron Eckhart if that makes sense.

BK: “Wander” is kind of a mind-bending movie in the same the way movies like “Jacob’s Ladder,” “Memento” and “The Sixth Sense” were.

AM: Very much. It’s very much like a current version of “Jacob’s Ladder.” I feel like it is the 2020 version of “Jacob’s Ladder” (laughs). At least, I hope it is. We really hope it is.

BK: You have said “Wander” was created in honor of all Indigenous, black and other people who are targeted and have been displaced through border control on stolen land. Do you this is what helps to set the film apart from others of its kind like “Jacob’s Ladder?”

AM: I’m not sure. I hope so. In the statement (at the film’s beginning), there is so much truth to that. We did a lot of research with MK-Ultra and who were the victims of that and of who did the government use to test different technologies on people, and it was mortifying. In our history, what we have done to people made a huge impact on us, and we had to say something at the beginning of the film because it’s not just a fictional world although we both wish it was different. This is the world that has happened in the past and we didn’t want to ignore it, but we didn’t want to heavy-hand it either. But we just thought it was so important to recognize the truth of what has happened, and it is terrifying to think we are constantly being tested and watched. Chip technology is right around the corner (laughs). Five years ago, it felt a little bit further away, but today… What we assumed five years ago, “Wander” is way more current than we ever dreamt it would be.

BK: In the film’s opening statement, it says “Wander” was filmed on the homelands of the Pueblo Navajo and Apache peoples. What effect would you say this had on the entire production?

AM: It had a huge effect. Our very first day, we opened with a ceremony recognizing the land with an indigenous family and clan from New Mexico, very close to Carrizozo, and that set the tone of what we were about to embark on. And as a creative person, and I’m also Anishinaabe Algonquin, I just thought that to start off with the recognition of the land that is not our own and that’s where we began, I really hoped to allow for truth, vulnerability and a humbling of everyone to know our goal as a creative group of being a silent warrior; shedding a light on these subject matters whatever they might be. This one in particular was Arthur’s journey, but at the end of the day we are all creating something that we hope makes an impact and propels change. Whether you’re a grip or costumes, I just thought coming together as a group and really allowing that to begin on the right foot was important, and then every day afterwards was the same. And then on a personal note, I don’t know if you noticed, but the music throughout the film was really specific and really original and different I think than any normal psychological thriller. That was a very strong intention to collaborate with an indigenous artist out of Canada whose name is Jeremy Dutcher, and I really wanted to put indigenous language in the film to bring medicine and healing through the Ancestors’ songs on the harsh reality of what our past and our history was. Just hearing that and feeling that, whether we understand it or not, I think our spirits are ideally healing through song and language, and that was a personal goal as well in making the film.

BK: The opening shot of “Wander” is brilliantly shot in how the camera comes up to the scene of a car accident and then pulls away from it to suddenly go up into a crane shot. How did you pull this off?

AM: You are the first person to mention this, and I have to say I loved that you did because no one has! That shot was so, so ambitious. There was only four of us. It was a (camera) operator who I have worked with on three films on the Steadicam who was rigged on the back of one of our production vans. My father was driving backwards (laughs) along a deserted road which we had full safety on each side which then came to a stop. The camera operator came up to and circled that space that you saw. He designed, which we brought from Canada to Carrizozo, a walk on/off platform which I am obsessed with. It’s used in the film a dozen times. He was able to take the Steadicam and do a walk on crane shot. It’s independent film so we have to do these things. He at the end walks backward onto a platform after which a crane lifts him up. He’s actually standing on the crane that he made a platform for, and it is all in one shot. I wanted it to be at sunrise so our window was very small. We practiced about three runs to get the timing of the lines of the road correct, and I really wanted it to be shot in one shot and not digitally faked. We shot it four times and then we got it on the second take. I’m really proud of that because it is an amazing achievement for a small crew with a small budget and being innovative together out in Carrizozo, New Mexico. We had very little resources. We built that shot with a hammer and screws (laughs).

BK: I imagine the budget on this production was very tight.

AM: Super tight. Too tight.

BK: How much time to shoot “Wander” in?

AM: 20 days, but our below the line budget was very puny because we had these incredible stars in the film, which is okay because that’s what we need for people to be able to see the film. But it really tightens the clasps on everything else. It was puny, very puny (laughs).

BK: Speaking of the cast, you have a great set of actors on display here. In addition to Aaron Eckhart, you also have Tommy Lee Jones, Heather Graham and Katheryn Winnick among others. How much direction did you have to give these actors, or did you simply leave them to their own talents?

AM: As a director I am very, very hands on, so I am always within arm’s length of them and am trying to challenge them and steer them in new directions. I think Aaron, Tommy, Heather and Kathryn are all playing roles that they are not stereotypically cast for. Heather Graham was the grounded best friend and the tether to reality for Arthur. She was not a romantic love interest. She was the voice of reason for the audience. That is something very challenging and new for her, coming up with ways in making sure she was really grounded. She loved it, I loved it and we were both up for the challenge. Tommy Lee, he doesn’t usually doesn’t get to play an eccentric, fun loving (at least on the surface), Hawaiian shirt wearing, whatever goes kind of guy. It is very different for him. There were a lot of questions and bod language and how to say certain things. We were always, always communicating and it was unbelievable work because it was such a small set and a small cast in a lot of ways. There was a lot of one on one time which was fortunate and really wonderful.

BK: Katheryn Winnick’s character always stands out in an interesting way in this film, and this is especially apparent in the first shot. Was that by your design or Katheryn’s?

AM: It was written in the script, but we also worked on the script months before she got to Carrizozo. I love that she comes prepared. We were revamping and reworking the script to cater to her and her strengths, and what she thought was more intelligent or higher stakes for her character which was fantastic. That was really unique how she brought that as a performer. When she got there, she was unbelievable. She came onto set, it was her first day, and it was the shot where she has to jump out of a window and Aaron catches her and they start running, and it is the intro where she takes off her mask. As she was coming out of the trailer, I was like, Katheryn, we have 20 minutes, the sun is setting, it’s a one-take wonder because it has to happen at magic hour. Once again, trying to way too ambitious for what I have (laughs). So I said, Kathryn, I have your stunt double here, but then I would have to cut for the lines. What do you feel? And she was like, “I’m down, I’m ready, let’s get dirty!” As big and as Hollywood as she is, she was ready to get dirty and gritty for the role because that role is undone in a lot of ways because her character carries with her a lot of weight. She is manipulating all of the puzzle pieces which is pretty cool to find out at the end. She was just such a team player and she didn’t even practice. She was like, let’s do it. I was like, are you sure about the window? Are you sure you’re gonna go through it? Are you okay? She says, “done. I’m ready.” We did it twice, she nailed it twice, Aaron caught her twice doing somersaults out of a window, both of them did their own stunts and it was unreal (laughs), and that was day one on set! They trusted each other, they trusted us, they trusted me and it was an awesome moment of just jumping off a platform and creating magic together. It was awesome.

BK: That’s one hell of a first day.

AM: Can you believe that? I know! Unbelievable.

BK: The look of this film is fantastic. How much of it is due to you, and how much of it is the result of your cinematographers, Gavin Smith and Russ De Jong?

AM: It was a huge collaboration from the beginning. Tim Doiron, the producing partner and I landed in New Mexico six months prior to shooting. We lived in Carrizozo, that little town, in those tiny motels for four months. We were isolated from reality just like Arthur which was super inspiring, and Gavin and I were coming up with that beautiful projection and trying to be innovative with the small budget and small locations we had and really branching out to try and make the film feel much bigger than what it was. I’m obsessed with every detail, every moment and every little piece of color, light, production value and design that you see onscreen. Every little detail, I wish I could say it happened by accident and that we sneezed and there it was, but it is meticulously planned (laughs). I hope it feels real. I just wanted it to feel like real life, but it was definitely very much planned including the times of day when we shot. I really wanted to take advantage of those gorgeous landscape shots and the sun setting shots. That required teamwork with the DP and also out first assistant director and our production designer, my sister Faye Mullen, and me and everybody coming together to really try and achieve what we needed to on a tight timeframe. But the look was heavily established beforehand. I started taking pictures and photographs the minute we started writing. Five years ago, I was collecting a look book for “Wander” that I brought to the DPs who I have worked with before on several projects so we had a shorthand. We just wanted to make it our best work, so we challenged each other every day than we ever made it before which is a good thing.

BK: That lightning bolt in one shot, that was real?

AM: Oh yeah it was. Nothing is effects except for the little chip. Everything is real. Every sunset, every lightning bolt, all of that is just real and I’m so proud of that.

BK: Thank you for your time April.

AM: Thank you for supporting “Wander.” Have a great day and keep running!

“Wander” will be released in theaters (whichever ones are open), On Demand and on Digital starting December 4, 2020. Please be sure to check out the trailer below. Poster and photos courtesy of Saban Films.

‘The Dark Knight’ is the Best Comic Book/Superhero Movie Ever Made

The Dark Knight poster

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written in 2008.

OK, let’s just get it out of the way: “The Dark Knight” is fucking brilliant! It is a triumph not just of action and direction, but also of acting and characters. This is not simply a story of good guys versus bad guys, but of flawed human beings whose childhood scars have long since formed them into people who can never lead a truly normal life (whatever that means anyway). How thrilling it is to see a movie which actually lives up to the hype. I was desperately trying to control my expectations before going in, but it was hard to with all the glorious reviews it has been getting. How relieved I am to see that all these reviews are more than justified!

No longer burdened by the traditional origin story, “The Dark Knight” thrusts us right into the action with a brilliantly staged robbery sequence. Christopher Nolan has said “Heat” was a big inspiration in this movie’s making, and it does have the look of a Michael Mann movie. It also allows the Joker, the Caped Crusader’s main nemesis here, a truly inspired introduction. Unlike other movie villains who are interested in money and power, the Joker really has no discernable movie other than creating total chaos. This makes him the scariest kind of villain as he has nothing to lose while everyone else does.

We catch up with Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) as his alter ego of Batman is beginning to take its toll on him psychologically. Like Peter Parker in “Spider-Man 2” or Clark Kent in “Superman II,” he is starting to tire of the role he is playing, and he yearns to spend his days with the love of his life, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal, replacing Katie Holmes), as she represents the best chance for him to lead a normal life. This is even more so as Batman is now seen more as a vigilante and a danger to Gotham City, despite all he has done to clear the streets of the crime which nearly consumed it. This is made all the more complicated when the Joker gets everyone’s attention by saying he will kill one person a day until the Batman takes off his mask and reveals who he really is to the world. Naturally, the public blames Batman for what the Joker’s actions, and this adds to his desperation to rid himself of his alter-ego. But while Bruce may be able to live without Batman, can Gotham City?

Of all the Batman movies to date, this one gives us a Gotham City totally rooted in reality. All the previous installments have presented Gotham as a place of gothic buildings and ominously dark colors which come to consume the spirits of those living there. This is not the fantastical city we have seen in the past, but instead a city like others we know which are forced to deal with high levels of crime and corruption. As a result, the look and locale really add a lot to the story and the characters in it, and this makes everything seem more dangerous and precarious as a result. To do this I think is a brilliant move on Nolan’s part and, along with this summer’s “Iron Man,” it helps to completely redefine how a comic book movie can be cinematically realized.

I saw “The Dark Knight” on opening day with colleagues from my day job, and some of the people I work with have lived in the rougher parts of Los Angeles for a long time. They definitely saw some of those rougher parts in this movie, and when we exited the theater, one of them said, “Gotham is even worse than South Central!” To quote a line from “Pulp Fiction,” that’s a bold statement!

Bale now effectively owns the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman. Before him, it was Michael Keaton who gave us the strongest portrait of this character. With Bale, you get a Batman and Bruce Wayne with different levels which he plays ever so effectively. Bruce goes from being a swinging playboy to a fighter of crime in no time at all, and even when he comes off as a cad, you still care about and root for him because it seems like no one can take care of crime the way he does.

The one person Bruce believes is the one who can relieve him his Batman duties is Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), a lawyer with a big ego and endless integrity which he vows never to relinquish. If “The Dark Knight” does not make Eckhart into a star, nothing will. It should have happened already last year with Jason Reitman’s “Thank You for Smoking” where he played a lobbyist for the tobacco industry, but this one should do the trick. Seeing Harvey’s transformation to strong district attorney to a tragic figure when he becomes the villainous Two Face is devastating. Eckhart makes you believe in him as a public servant, and when it seems like so much has been taken away from him, you feel tremendous sympathy for him while even as he makes which may forever destroy his valiant reputation.

By the way, his changing into Two Face was one of the movie’s best kept secrets throughout its advertisements. His transformation to this sinister character is hideous in its look and a brilliant mix of both makeup and technology. It is a face burned to where an eyelid is missing as well as part of the lip and gums, and it is a shocking visual when we first see it.

The movie has a strong cast with actors who ably fit the roles they have been cast in. Maggie Gyllenhaal fits the role of Rachel Dawes much better than Katie Holmes did, and she makes it all her own by creating a character who you can believe is not easily intimidated by the criminals she prosecutes. When she is caught between with Bruce and Harvey, Gyllenhaal believably makes her character seem like anything other than a pushover.

Michael Caine returns as Bruce’s loyal butler and silent partner in justice, Alfred. Caine is always a welcome presence in any movie he appears in, and the moment where he compares the Joker to another criminal from his past is a strong one as he makes it clear to Bruce and the audience what kind of nemesis he is facing up against this time around.

Morgan Freeman is also back as Lucius Fox who is to Batman as Q is to James Bond. The moment where he stares down an employee making a threat against him and Bruce Wayne is a brilliant piece of stone faced acting which reminds us of why we love him so much as an actor. Even as a supporting player in the movies, he remains a force to be reckoned with.

We also have Gary Oldman back as one of Gotham’s few incorruptible cops, James Gordon. In the past, Oldman has given us some of the scariest and deadliest of villains we could ever hope to see onscreen. Since then, he has moved on to portray the good guy, and while this may seem like a bland choice for an actor like him to make, he succeeds in making his goodness and unstoppable nature in getting the bad guys very appealing. There are not many other actors I can think of who could pull this off, and you come to truly respect the kind of man Gordon is through his terrific performance.

But then there is Heath Ledger in what sadly became his final completed onscreen before his shocking death. There was a lot of talk, before “The Dark Knight” came out, of if he should be nominated for an Oscar and perhaps even become the first posthumous Academy Award winner since Peter Finch in “Network.” Some like Terry Gilliam have found this to be utterly annoying and simply see it as Warner Brothers’ way of juicing up the excitement for this movie so it can have one hell of an opening weekend. While this criticism is certainly justified, I now count myself on the bandwagon for Ledger getting the damn Oscar as he took on a role already made famous by Jack Nicholson and others, and he more than succeeded in making it his own. This seemed unthinkable when it was first announced he would playing the Joker, but Nolan was correct in saying Ledger was “fearless.”

Seriously, Ledger’s performance is a work of art. Whereas Nicholson made us share in his gleefully sadistic nature as the Joker to where we couldn’t deny we were endlessly entertained, Ledger gives us a Joker who is a viciously terrifying psychotic and one to be feared whenever he is onscreen. God only knows what depths the actor went to in order to play this role, but it is easy to see why he lost a lot of sleep over it. His Joker is indeed the scariest of villains as he has no real motive for doing what he does. This guy is in it for all the chaos and anarchy he can get out of Gotham, and he couldn’t seem to care less about money and power. Ledger makes his Joker a live wire, and the tension when he is in a room with one he is taunting is so thick, you need a heavy-duty chainsaw cut through it. There is no real back story to this Joker other than a story he tells about his daddy cutting his face to explain why his face is scared, but then again, can you really be sure he is telling the truth?

Seriously, I would put Ledger’s Joker on the same level with Hannibal Lecter from “The Silence of the Lambs” as well as Robert DeNiro’s Max Cady from “Cape Fear.” I would even go as far as to put him on a pedestal alongside Ben Kingsley’s ragingly raw performance as Don Logan in “Sexy Beast.” I love a bad guy who totally gets under our skin to such an effect to where it feels like he or she is reaching out of the screen to choke you. I get such a fiendish delight out of this, and Ledger’s performance makes it seem like it has been so long since we have had a truly unnerving villain show up on the silver screen.

While we revel in the brilliance of Ledger’s performance as Joker, it makes his loss seem all the more tragic because he succeeded in completely disappearing into the character he played in the same way Marlon Brando and De Niro have in the past. We were tragically robbed of an actor who would have easily become one of the greatest actors of his generation had he lived. His role as the Joker is one hell of an exit, but it feels so unfair that he now has to join the ranks of actors like James Dean who left us way too soon.

Unlike other summer movie blockbusters, this one is not afraid to take us on a journey to the darkest and most despairing depths of its characters short-lived triumphs and endless sorrows. This is a movie about how blurred our moral and ethical boundaries can get when we are pushed beyond our limits. Many big choices are made not just by the main characters, but by the people of Gotham. What will they do to survive? What choices will they make? But more importantly, what will their choice say about them, and are they prepared to live with the consequences of their actions?

These questions hit everyone hard, but no one gets hit harder than Bruce as he finds, in order to defeat the Joker, he has to become almost as bad as him. But can he live with that? Can the others close to him live with that as well? Bruce starts to find himself boxed into a corner as the Joker continually taunts him in a ways which turn the public against him. In the end, he becomes a lot like Jack Bauer from “24” as he protects the people as much as he can, but in the process comes to pay a very high price for what he does. Batman says he is not a hero, and while his actions are heroic, he does have a point. And in order to protect what integrity Gotham has left, he has to make some hard sacrifices.

Nothing in the city of Gotham is black and white, but an endless sea of grey as people are challenged to see who they really are. No one is innocent, and everyone is guilty of something. “The Dark Knight” finds its power and tragedy in the characters who start off good, but who soon lose their way as they head down a path they can never easily turn back from. As Harvey Dent says, “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

Nolan is now officially one of the best directors working today, and I am thrilled he got away with making a film as dark as this one and still get a PG-13 rating in the process. He started his career off with a bang with “Memento,” and he gave us his one of the few genuinely great remakes with “Insomnia” in which he directed Al Pacino and Robin Williams to some of their best performances ever. With “The Dark Knight,” he has continued to make Batman and the world he inhabits very much his own, and he may very well have made the best superhero movie ever. Even while it clocks in at about two and a half hours, you never feel the length because Nolan fully immerses you into what everything going on.

After the movie was finished, I went right out and bought the soundtrack which is composed by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. It is a fantastic and intense score, and they easily best the work they did on “Batman Begins.” For me, this is a sign of a truly great motion picture as I did the exact same thing after I saw “Pulp Fiction” and “Boogie Nights.” I loved this movie. I LOVED IT!! I hope it makes a HUGE killing at the box office because this is the kind of summer movie I want to see more often.

As of right now, “The Dark Knight” is the movie to beat for 2008.

* * * * out of * * * *

Sully

sully-movie-poster

Tom Hanks has been the go to guy for playing American heroes and for good reason; he never plays characters as people gunning to become heroes at any given opportunity. Whether it is Captain Miller in “Saving Private Ryan,” Jim Lovell in “Apollo 13,” Andrew Beckett in “Philadelphia,” Forrest Gump or even Jimmy Dugan in “A League of Their Own,” Hanks has long been the master of playing ordinary Americans who are just trying to get by in the rough and tumble real world the best way they know how. None of these characters set out for the adulation of others, but for a sense of purpose and justice in a world which at times seems devoid of it.

Now we can add Chesley Sullenberger to Hanks’ list of noble American characters with his excellent performance in “Sully,” Clint Eastwood’s dramatization of the airline pilot’s dramatic landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River. We all know this story of how the flight suffered dual engine failure shortly after takeoff due to a flock of Canadian geese flying straight at them, but Eastwood and Hanks dig deeper into what went on as Sullenberger and his First Officer Jeffery Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) are soon drilled by the National Transportation Safety Board as tests imply the left engine on the plane did not fail, meaning they still could have landed at LaGuardia Airport or one in New Jersey instead of on the water.

Sullenberger was quickly hailed a national hero for successfully landing the plane and saving all the lives aboard it, but this movie shows him more troubled by what he did than proud. He becomes plagued with nightmares and PTSD over how the flight could have ended in a catastrophic way. Also, with him and Skiles being thrown into instant stardom for their actions, Sullenberger ends up feeling isolated from everyone around him as people are eager to hug him or shake his hand in congratulating him for what he accomplished.

What I especially liked about “Sully” is how it shows the damaging effect sudden fame can have on an individual. While some might be super excited about appearing on “Late Night with David Letterman” or being interviewed by Katie Couric (who plays herself in this movie), Sullenberger finds him retreating from all the media attention as he never asked for it. While he constantly reaches out to his wife Lorraine (Laura Linney), they are separated by thousands of miles as she resides on the other side of the country. Even as they talk on the phone, the space between them feels quite profound and loneliness soon becomes his best friend.

Hanks’ performance as Sullenberger reminds us of why we look to him to play those people we see as American heroes; they are people not quick to jump into the spotlight and appear unsure as to what to do once they are thrust into it. Hanks never sets out to impersonate Sullenberger, but instead seeks to capture his state of mind following this unforgettable incident. The Oscar winning actor does excellent work in showing how Sullenberger is beset by tremendous self-doubt as he is forced to wonder if he made the right decision in light of all the computer generated evidence presented to him.

Hanks is also supported by a strong supporting cast of actors whom can never be expected to let him or Eastwood down at any second. Eckhart is the definition of strong support as his character of First Officer Jeff Skiles stands by Sullenberger every step of the way. There’s also Laura Linney who plays Sully’s wife, Lorraine, who does her best to support her husband over the phone any chance she gets. While in some ways Linney has a thankless role to play here, she justifies Lorraine’s presence in the film as the character is the support Sully needs through the most trying of times.

One of the key things Eastwood gets across here as a director is how the human element has to take precedence of the technological one as not everything can be solved or reasoned out completely by computers. This is especially interesting as Eastwood is best known for directing movies which deal heavily in human nature and its ever-growing complexity, but this time he has some nifty tools to work with. Eastwood got to shoot much of “Sully” with IMAX cameras, and seeing this movie on the nearest IMAX screen is a must.

The plane crash sequence is masterfully directed as we see pilots and flight attendants at their most professional during a moment of crisis. While we all know how things will turn out here, it is still a pulse pounding scene as we are with everyone on this plane from when they take off to when they land on the Hudson. The sound of the engines dying down and of silence in midair is unnerving, and it’s not every day you see a commercial jet land in the water.

Eastwood also makes us remember how the human element plays as big part in movies as do visual effects. He has not set out to give us a biopic on Sullenberger, and that’s even though there are moments sprinkled throughout which show his beginnings as a pilot and other significant experiences which molded him into the pilot he became. Instead, he is far more interested in the impact this one miraculous moment can have on a person’s life and of the obstacles it places in front of them.

Thank goodness Eastwood did not put the term “based on a true story” at the beginning of “Sully.” We all know this happened. Does Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki play loose with the facts? Sure, but most movies like this do. The NTSB has objected to the way they have been portrayed here, and they do come across as overly villainous at times. But in terms of the story’s dramatic arc, it makes sense why they were portrayed as such here. To his credit, Sullenberger requested that the names of the real-life NTSB investigators, which were featured in the original draft, be changed as he felt it would be unfair to associate them with the changes in the story. Whatever the case, “Sully” is still a very compelling and gripping motion picture to sit through.

Some still question whether Chesley Sullenberger deserves to be called a hero as they believe he still could have landed at an airport. Others I know personally have accused him of using his pulpit to trash professional pilots for no good reason. But neither Eastwood or Hanks made this movie to deify Sullenberger as to do so would seriously cheapen the story for no good reason. They simply show us an ordinary man who was forced to make a quick decision in order to save the lives of many, and he was not out to call himself more heroic than others for his actions.

But also, “Sully” shows how an entire life can too often be boiled down, often unfairly so, to a single moment which renders all other accomplishments moot. In today’s media and technology saturated culture, people are never defined too broadly anymore but instead by specific actions more than anything else. The Buddha once said the merit of a whole life can be undone in a single moment. This could have been the fate Sullenberger would have been forced to accept, but he rose to the occasion and saved many lives in the process. As this movie shows, he was never out to be a hero. He was simply a human being doing his job.

And if nothing else, the movie shows Americans, especially those in New York, rising to the occasion and helping the passengers get to the shore safely. However which way you want to look at the story of US Airways Flight 1549, it did provide us with a happy ending we desperately wanted to have.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.