Sully (2016) Review/editorial: Oldman doing a job properly and fuck the naysayers

The Tom Hanks starring film “Sully” (2016) directed by Clint Eastwood recently had early screening here in Korea. The movie, as the title conveys, is about Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger of 2009’s “miracle on the Hudson River” fame. Do you remember he crash landed a passenger plane disabled by hitting a flock of birds saving all hands on deck in the process on Jan. 15, 2009? The movie tells the story of Sully’s experience surrounding the NTSB investigation of that real life event. Interesting enough it is not about the series of events climaxing with the crash as one would expect. Then, what is the movie really about? Is it really even about the character of Sully?

I’ve heard critics having issues with the story structure of this movie. The movie starts after the crash happens and follows the investigation of that event. Rather than telling the story of the event in a linear fashion, most of the important scenes utilize flashbacks to the degree that I would say at least half of this movie is filled with them. In addition to quantity, there are not one but three types of flash backs utilized. In the most frequently used of these flashbacks, we see the events of the crash happen repeatedly. Over and over. Why did the director choose to approach the story in this fashion? It is not like we get to know more about the crash landing every time a flashback happens. “Sully” (2016) doesn’t parcel out information bit by bit. The actual information provided is basically the same. The only difference is how the events are presented. In another type of flash backs, these events are presented as dreamlike nightmare recreations of those events. They are the “what if” flashbacks. The last type of flashback are the conventional flash backs in which we get relevant information regarding the character’s back story. This heavy reliance on flashbacks is what the critics are complaining about.  So, what do I think about the criticisms?

You know I should appreciate the fact that the critics have issues with structure since I’m also a “story structure” person myself. I really should have a problem. However, I do not agree with these critics’ assessment. The story structure of “Sully” (2016) seems to perfect for what director “Clint Eastwood” wanted to do with this movie. At its core, the movie is not really about Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and the crash. Those are just the delivery devices for the story the director wanted to tell. It is about the psychological experience one goes through when one is suddenly bombarded with naysayers who criticize how one fulfilled one’s duties. You can be certain with all your being that you did your job to the utmost of your capabilities. However, once you are hit by the torrent of negative criticism, you are seriously shaken even if those the naysayers are slimy journalists trying to exploit you for ratings and government bureaucrats trying place blame and ruin your life so that they could make triple copies of everything and file them away.

Once you are shaken and doubt creeps in, you try to examine your memory to check if your prior assertions were right. Then, you use your imagination to wonder what if. You even look back into your past to find experiences that led to your decisions on that fateful day. The use of flashbacks in this movie is a creative way of depicting what is going inside the character’s head without resorting to first person perspective story telling or excessive use of narration. More importantly, it helps the audience feel the doubt, the confusion, and the indignation that the character Sully is going through. This is why most scenes in the movie either have the character of Sully in them or are about him. This is why none of the other characters are developed beyond their functions as Sully’s sounding boards or confidants. You would expect the critics to notice this type of creativity. They are the ones who normal do. But many of them don’t notice this because they can’t emotionally put oneself in Sully’s shoes and their subconscious interprets this situations as a creative failure on the part of the movie and not on themselves. Why is this so?

Who is the protagonist in the movie “Sully” (2016) really represent? Who are the good guys and bad guys in this movie? Director Clint Eastwood’s politics are well known. His view of the world and America is well displayed in this movie where he wants the audience to experience the ordeal the “bad” make the “good” go through. Once again who are the good guys and bad guys in this movie? On one hand, you have the “salt of the earth working blue collar” folks who just want to raise their families and perform their jobs to the fullest of their abilities. On the other, there are the intellectuals, the press, and the government bureaucrats. Who do you think are the bad and the good in the eyes of Director Clint Eastwood? Where do you think many critics fall into? At the end, how you react to a movie shows who you are as much as it show what the movie is.

Oh the actual review?
How is the direction? Clint Eastwood, as a director, is at least competent and sometimes great. He is pretty good here.
What about the acting? It is Tom Hanks! Do you need more?
So, did I enjoy the movie? Well yes. I couldn’t wait to put this to paper.

Since this is more of an editorial than a proper review, no score today.


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