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.

 

 

American Sniper

American Sniper poster

I came into Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” the same way I came into Dinesh D’Souza’s documentary ‘America: Imagine the World Without Her;” wondering if it was even remotely possible to review this movie in an objective fashion. With its look at the Iraq War, many on either side of the political spectrum have been arguing on whether this biopic of Chris Kyle, who is said to be the deadliest marksman in U.S. military history, is pro-war or anti-war. In the end, many are going to end up bringing their own emotional baggage to this movie whether they intend to or not.

The way I see it, Eastwood is not the slightest bit interested in making a case about whether or not we should have been at war with Iraq to begin with. Like Kathryn Bigelow did with “The Hurt Locker,” Eastwood just accepts the fact that, like it or not, we were in Iraq and he is far more interested in what this war did to the soldiers in the long run. While I wished Eastwood dug deeper into the subject matter here, “American Sniper” is the most compelling movie he has directed since “Gran Torino.”

Bradley Cooper portrays Chris Kyle, and he more than deserved the Oscar nomination he received for his performance. Cooper disappears completely into this role which required him to lift some seriously heavy weights to appear the least bit believable as Kyle, and he fearlessly shows us the moral weight he carries after killing so many people for better and/or for worse. Cooper’s face shows the toll of what Kyle has been through to where the actor doesn’t have to tell us what Kyle is experiencing psychologically. The moments where he may be forced to shoot a child weigh hardest on us because you see that his choices on how to resolve this situation are severely limited.

While Eastwood’s portrayal of soldiers under fire in Iraq might pale in comparison to what Bigelow pulled off in “The Hurt Locker” or the brutality of basic training Stanley Kubrick made us witness in “Full Metal Jacket,” he still captures the feel and atmosphere American soldiers got caught up in while on foreign soil. Although we may think we would have reacted to similar situations differently, it’s hard to convince ourselves of this after watching “American Sniper.” I don’t know about you all, but I have never served in the military and have no idea how I would and should react if I ended up in a war situation like this. Moreover, I shudder to think what I would have done under the same circumstances Chris had to face.

Sienna Miller plays Kyle’s wife, Taya, and she ends up being stuck at home while her husband keeps going off on several tour of duties. Now in some ways Miller has a thankless role as she has little to do but wait at home and hope her husband survives the war. However, her character provides a center in Chris’ life which he eventually realizes is more valuable than anything else he has in his life. So is Miller wasted in this movie? I don’t think so unless you really want to complain about how she doesn’t have a lot to do.

I have to applaud Eastwood and Cooper for bringing attention to how many soldiers still deal with severe cases of PTSD which has left them unable to fully function in civilian life. While I wish they dug a little deeper into this issue, the fact that any movie these days is dealing with it feels like a miracle. It’s a huge issue which many who have sent many brave souls to the battlefield never take the time to fully understand, and we see this in all the cuts in programs designed to benefit veterans.

Much has been said about the kind of person Chris Kyle was, and I can’t really attest to that because I don’t have much knowledge about the man other than what I have read and seen so far. What I can say is he served as a sniper in the Iraq War, came out of it with psychological issues which needed to be addressed and eventually came around to help those who suffered as he did. His death at such a young age was tragic however which way you look at it. Regardless of how you feel about Kyle, Eastwood’s “American Sniper” pays tribute to what American soldiers had to endure during the Iraq War. At the very least, the movie serves as a reminder of why we need to thank those soldiers for defending our freedoms regardless of whether or not we agreed with the war they fought it.

Here’s hoping those soldiers still dealing with mental health issues get the attention they deserve because they do not deserve to be left out in the cold.

* * * out of * * * *

Copyright Ben Kenber 2014.