“Shooting with IMAX cameras, Eastwood captures the terror of that fateful day from both inside the plane and from those watching helplessly around the Hudson,” writes Screen‘s Tim Grierson. “Although only 95 minutes long, Sully has a rather complex structure, the film taking place during the investigation but interweaving flashbacks of different moments during the flight as well as earlier episodes from Sullenberger’s life. Each time Eastwood returns to the doomed flight, though, the film snaps to attention, the director’s patented subdued approach working wonders to amplify the inherently thrilling and frightening incident that lasted all of 208 seconds.”
Variety‘s Peter Debruge argues that, while “more of the film is set in the hot seat of inquest chambers and courtrooms than in the cockpit itself, starting after the plane has safely landed is a shrewd storytelling strategy for multiple reasons. Not least of these is that it allows Eastwood to parcel out multiple impressions of the incident—from extended flashbacks to crude simulations—over the course of the movie, effectively offering audiences six plane crashes for the price of one.”
“Eastwood has never been apologetic about his sincerity—he grabs at emotions that lesser filmmakers would be embarrassed to attempt,” writes Time Out‘s Joshua Rothkopf. “But even as recently as American Sniper, he’s done a much better job than this of shading in the grays of what constitutes heroism. Sully is so square, it’s a wonder it even gets airborne.”
“Does this sincere working-class man, transformed into a national hero overnight, deserve the acclaim?” Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn: “It’s the kind of old-fashioned quandary that Frank Capra loved to assess, and Eastwood follows suit, with a familiar drama only given a fresh spin by its ability to put viewers in the cockpit. In the wake of American Sniper, the filmmaker continues to prove that he’s a master of thrilling sequences even when the surrounding exposition fails to keep up.”
Tom Hanks, “his hair dyed stark white and looking somewhat older than Sully was at that time, doesn’t convey the folksy demeanor Sully has portrayed in public, but he does evoke his compassion,” finds Gregory Ellwood at the Playlist. “He’s particularly impressive after Sully is informed that all the passengers and crew made it out safely. The rest of the cast have their moments (Laura Linney in particular as Sully’s stressed-out wife), but it’s really a showcase for Hanks’s charismatic demeanor.”
For the Los Angeles Times, Rebecca Keegan talks with Eastwood and Hanks “about the heroism of Sullenberger’s story, the thing that annoys them most about other directors and how a Democrat and a sometimes Republican find common ground during one of the most contentious US elections to date.”
Update, 9/4: “In person,” writes the Guardian‘s Nigel M. Smith, “Clint Eastwood recently has the tendency to come across as brash and combative (in an August interview he derided much of America as a ‘pussy generation’ while telling people to ‘just fucking get over Donald Trump’s many controversial remarks). As a filmmaker, however, the 86-year-old is the antithesis. His best work—Letters From Iwo Jima, Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River, Unforgiven—all share an understated quality that means the emotional impact of his stories rings authentic. Eastwood’s most recent, Sully, squarely fits that bill.”
Updates, 9/6: “Sully is Eastwood’s entry into an expansive—and burgeoning—genre: ‘competence porn.'” Megan Garber elaborates for the Atlantic.
“Sully isn’t exactly the Eastwood minor work its trailer and lack of buzz pre-Telluride made it seem,” suggests Vanity Fair‘s Richard Lawson. “Most tellingly, the Telluride crowd loved it. They whooped and cheered and gave a standing ovation the morning I saw it, and it was the most consistently referenced film I heard in line all weekend.”
Pierre Rissient is watching SULLY for the 2nd time. He calls the chemistry b/w Tom Hanks & Aaron Eckhart “Hawksian.” #TellurideFilmFestival
— erickohn (@erickohn) September 3, 2016
Updates, 9/8: “In telling the story of a figure canonized in the mediascape as an unsullied and shining hero,” writes the New Yorker‘s Richard Brody, “Eastwood looks past the media representation to seek the essence of heroism, shattering the shining heroic veneer and restoring its tragic nature through the looming terror of death.”
“Sully is not a perfect film, but it comes close to being a great one,” argues Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at the AV Club. “Like the classic American studio films it sometimes hearkens back to, Sully is both up-front and subtle, lingering on the nuances of men and women who only ever speak their minds. The comparison that comes to mind is Howard Hawks, an individualist conservative (like Eastwood) who made movies about ragtag groups working together and enjoying the heck out of it.”
Updates, 9/9: From Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: “Mr. Eastwood’s filmmaking is expedient (no fuss, no muss), detailed and distinguished by sudden beauty, as when Sully, after the accident, stands alone while framed against the wintry lead-gray sky out of which he just fell. Mr. Eastwood is a musician, and he plays with the story’s competing moods and rhythms with suppleness, setting one scene to the steady beat of everyday life, only to amp another until it races like a thudding heart. The accident, which remains unnervingly in the register of the real, is a master class in direction.”
Nick Pinkerton for Reverse Shot: “A thousand different films could have resulted from Sully’s tale, and most of them would have been stirring schmaltz at best, but the property fell into the hands of Clint Eastwood, at age 86 one of the most fundamentally sound and unaffectedly idiosyncratic directors making multiplex movies today, and the only who has an unbroken linkage to the old Hollywood studio system. The resulting film, Sully, brings out a double meaning in its title, a film about the attempted tarnishing of a hero, as concerned with possible tragedy as with actual triumph.”
“As he’s evolved into a dramatic actor, Hanks’s comic background has trained him to create sudden ruptures of rhythm to change the entire perspective of a character,” writes Peter Labuza for Gothamist. “In a moment near the end, Hanks nods his head over to his co-pilot, an almost amused characterization that suggests something intangible about the character that we can only witness, and thus empathize with the real consequences of becoming a legend.”
More from Luke Goodsell (4:3), Chris Knight (National Post), Nick Newman (Film Stage, B), Lisa Rosman (Signature), Christopher Orr (Atlantic), Michael Sragow (Film Comment), and Susan Wloszczyna (RogerEbert.com, 3/4). And the Toronto Star‘s Peter Howell interviews Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger.
Updates, 9/10: “Sully can feel like a dutiful, hagiographic slog, even though its actual running time barely tops 90 minutes and both Hanks and Eckhart give warm, understated, funny performances in the only two roles developed enough to qualify as real characters,” writes Slate‘s Dana Stevens.
Updates, 9/12: “Eastwood keeps his direction lean and mean,” writes Marc Savlov in the Austin Chronicle. “There’s not an ounce of wasted screen time in Sully’s 96 minutes, but the story, an example of ‘truth is stranger than fiction,’ has all the thrust it needs, and then some.”
In the Guardian, Stephen Cass argues that Sully “is another rightwing attempt to delegitimize government—and in the process undermine the safety of millions who travel by air, train, road, and boat.”
Updates, 9/23: “‘We did our job,’ says Tom Hanks’s Captain Chesley Sullenberger in an unguarded moment that turns out to be the emotional fulcrum and raison d’tre,” writes Sean Burns. It’s “a stripped-down, unfussy salute to professionalism that pretty much serves as a statement of principles for the Eastwood oeuvre—call it The Malpaso Manifesto. In many ways, Sully is the Clint Eastwood-is movie Clint Eastwood has ever made.”
“Like American Sniper,” writes the Chicago Reader‘s J.R. Jones, “Sully is mainly an exercise in deification, mining our common cultural experience for the sort of stoic men of action the director plays so well onscreen. After the two pilots have cleared their names at the hearing, one of the investigators (Anna Gunn of Breaking Bad) asks them if they would have done anything differently. To the crowd’s warm delight, Skiles squeezes off a perfect make-my-day rejoinder—’I would have done it in July’—and Eastwood abruptly fades to black. At least he spares us a high five and a freeze-frame.”
Update, 9/25: “Call me biased,” writes David Bordwell, who’s just completed a book on Hollywood storytelling from 1939 – 1952, “but now nearly every mainstream movie I see seems indebted to storytelling strategies consolidated in the 1940s. Take Sully. In less than ninety minutes, it runs through a wide range of narrative techniques. The fact that we take them so completely for granted, and understand them so swiftly, indicates the stability of what we call a Hollywood movie. It’s kind of miraculous that filmmakers continue to find ingenious ways to fulfill norms that were locked into place seventy years ago.”