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Sully (Blu-ray Review)

23 Dec, 2016 By: John Latchem

Box office $124.85 million
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 UHD BD
Rated ‘PG-13’ for some peril and brief strong language
Stars Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Anna Gunn, Chris Bauer, Ann Cusack, Jamey Sheridan, Mike O’Malley.

For every movie based on a true story, there’s always a question of how much to rely on the audience’s advanced knowledge of the events. Film is, after all, an artistic medium, so finding a balance between telling the story for the audience to understand and not boring them with what they already know becomes key.

Sully re-creates in vivid detail the 2009 “Miracle on the Hudson,” in which U.S. Airways Flight 1549 pilot Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, with the help of first officer Jeffrey B. Skiles, successfully landed the plane in the Hudson River after a collision with a flock of birds damaged both engines shortly after takeoff.

On the surface, it would seem to be a fairly straightforward affair: the plane goes down, Sully becomes a celebrity, and then what? It was a problem that seemed to confound some of the filmmakers at first as well, according to the bonus featurettes. In adapting Sully’s book, Highest Duty, screenwriter Todd Kamarnicki and director Clint Eastwood put more of the focus on the investigation that ensued, allowing them to re-create the crash in flashbacks from multiple points of view.

In many ways, this approach invites comparisons to Robert Zemeckis’s 2012 film Flight, which was a fictional account of a pilot making an impossible landing and dealing with implications of wrongdoing in the investigation that followed. And in comparing the films, one can find the different approaches filmmakers may take when presenting real versus fictional events. Flight offers the much more conventional narrative, beginning with the crash and then guiding the audience through the investigation as the whole exercise turns out to be a character study of an alcoholic pilot. The film’s fictional nature allows for a variety of colorful characters of plot devices that otherwise wouldn’t be available to a re-telling of actual events without significantly straying from the historical record.

With Sully, Eastwood knows the audience is probably familiar with what happened. He intriguingly opens the film with an alternate scenario: Sully attempting to making it back to an airport, and coming up short. The imagery is striking and serves to inform us of the Sully’s internal conflict. NTSB investigators insist he could have made it to an airport, Sully (Tom Hanks) insists he wouldn’t have made it. But their doubt causes him to doubt himself as they threaten to ground him forever. Since all the passengers survived, the only real motivating factor is the value of the lost aircraft.

Given that, seven years later, the real Sully is widely hailed as a hero, the outcome of the film is never really in doubt, the film has to mine what tension it can from the premise. It’s hardly a surprise, then, that the film runs a brisk 96 minutes, and even to get it that long the film needs two different scenes re-creating the crash, plus a reunion of the real-life flight crew and passengers during the end credits.

The real Sully was in fact very prominent in the film’s promotional campaign, with the highlight likely being an appearance alongside Hanks on the Jimmy Kimmel show, turning the tables on the biopic concept by starring as Tom in a trailer for Hanks.

As he relates in the bonus materials, Eastwood said Sully reminded him of a Jimmy Stewart-type everyman, so he wanted to cast the modern-day version of Stewart: Tom Hanks.

Those kinds of common-sense approaches to filmmaking permeate the production, and it’s Eastwood professionalism and skill as a filmmaker that make the film so watchable and entertaining.

The Blu-ray contains three mid-length featurettes, two of which focus on the real story — 15 minutes about the flight and subsequent rescue, and a 20-minute biography of Sully. Together these might be enough to carry their own DVD as a nonfiction recount of the events; adding them in with the film’s re-enactments really ups the value of the whole package to anyone interested in knowing more about the incident.

Also includes is a 20 minute making-of featurette filled with interesting information about how the filmmakers brought authenticity to their re-creation.

About the Author: John Latchem

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