sullycoverGrade: A-/B+
Entire family: No
2016, 96 min., Color
Warner Bros.
Rated PG-13 for some peril and brief strong language
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos
Bonus features: A-
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Amazon link

For the first 30 minutes or so, Sully is a little like the film’s namesake, Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. Understated and unassuming. it’s a quiet one-man show, the kind that star Tom Hanks pulled off in Cast Away. In fact, in the early going it feels a little ordinary—just a well-crafted character study that capitalizes on an actual news story.

Then something surprising happens. As the tension builds inside the pilot who made headlines and became a national hero for successfully landing a full passenger jet on the Hudson River, so does the tension build in this film by director Clint Eastwood.

sullyscreen2Before you know it, you’re wrapped up in the drama as Sully and co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) have their actions questioned and must appear in front of a hearing panel of the National Transportation Safety Board. Could two men lauded as heroes for saving 155 people have put them needlessly in danger by choosing to land on the Hudson rather than returning to LaGuardia?

Like any good courtroom drama, Sully moves back and forth in time as everyone tries to piece together what really happened. Based on Sullenberger’s autobiography, this film doesn’t start at the beginning and build to the Miracle on the Hudson. Just the opposite. We join Sully soon after his January 2009 emergency landing as he is still obviously suffering from a mild form of post-traumatic stress syndrome and still trying to process what happened . . . all while dealing with the media spotlight. By film’s end—told from Sully’s point of view—you’re thinking that the real miracle was that this ordinary man was still able to keep his wits under such extraordinary circumstances in the bureaucratic crisis that came in the aftermath of the crash landing.

sullyscreen1In the tradition of disaster movies, we really don’t get much in the way of character development outside of Sully. His relationship with his family isn’t much scrutinized, and the clips we get in flashback only give us the most basic idea of his background in aviation. Mostly, the film stays with the forced landing, the aftermath, and the hearing . . . and it turns out to be plenty satisfying. That’s due, in large part, to Hanks—an actor my teenage son said he’d love even if he played a villain.

But Eastwood also knows how to craft a film, and just as he builds tension he brilliantly diffuses it with one of the best closing lines in Hollywood history. Some dramas have very little replay potential, but ones like Sully—in which you know the outcome already, which puts an added burden on the acting and directing—rise to the occasion. Years from now, when people have forgotten about the Miracle on the Hudson, the film will only grow more powerful than it already is. Now or then, it’s also a reminder for younger viewers that well-crafted and tense movies can be made without a lot of pyrotechnics and action. And yes, the way to see it is on Blu-ray, with its superior resolution and soundtrack and great bonus features.

Language: One f-bomb and maybe a few dozen milder swearwords
Sex: Squeaky clean
Violence: Apart from bleeding on one character, there isn’t anything besides the crash landing itself and the obviously panicked passengers
Adult situations: Sully has a drink at a bar, but there is no intoxication
Takeaways: Clint Eastwood sure knows how to make a film, and Tom Hanks can still carry one