Clint Eastwood is 86 years old. He is also one of the best film directors working today. His latest film shows no signs of a man winding down his life, let alone his career. I obviously hinted that most other actors (or directors) his age have long ago died or checked into a nursing home. Eastwood looks lean and mean and still directs that way. Eastwood is interesting, as well, because he tends to pick projects that are outside the Hollywood studio corporate thinking. In other words, Eastwood is his own man and does pretty much anything he wants. His films as an actor and director have courted controversy way back to the days of Dirty Harry and A Fistful of Dollars. His films as a director and his personal political views are always full of contradictions that suggest a vibrant, searching mind. Sully is Eastwood’s latest film, starring Tom Hanks, and it is deceptively complex as well. On one level, Sully is a textbook depiction of a famous true life event.
On January 15, 2009, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) piloted a US Airbus A320 from LaGuardia airport. Three minutes into the flight, both engines are unprecedentedly hit by a flock of Canada geese (which is the subject of a pretty good joke later in the film) and create 208 seconds of hell for Sullenberger and the other 154 human beings on the US Airways flight. The film starts with a bang, with Sullenberger struggling to control the plane under the worst possible circumstances. This is part of the nightmares that hound the rigorously professional pilot. The fact is that the world is full of people who do difficult and dangerous jobs, and piloting a giant passenger airliner is certainly one of them. But the film also pays tribute to hundreds of other first responders who have to rush to life-and-death emergencies every day.
Much of the film is given to second-guessing a top professional who has given a lifetime of exemplary service. It is fair to compare Sully to Flight starring Denzel Washington, except this time the captain wasn’t doing cocaine. In this case, we have a serious and earnest man questioning himself despite knowing from years of experience that he has done the right thing. We see the crash played over and over again from different perspectives and with different outcomes, constantly forcing us to think how we would react in a crucial once-in-a-lifetime crisis. Many of the depictions come from the nightmares of Sullenberger showing how thousands might have died if he had crashed into midtown Manhattan. It goes without saying that this has echoes of 9/11, and much of that is addressed head-on. It comes back to the fact that Eastwood is his own man. He is one of the few people who could make such a rigorously square movie and pull it off. This is a movie about an honest man with a lifetime of proven integrity forced to defend himself in front of the whole world. This is also a big part of the movie. The world judges someone in an instant in this media-obsessed world.
Sully is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The ultra-high-definition image is arrived at by an HEVC codec. Eastwood should give a workshop to Hollywood filmmakers on image quality. This ultra-high-definition image presentation is flawless. Eastwood doesn’t throw in a ton of color correction to create atmosphere. This is as natural as an image can look in the current format, and that’s pretty damn good. You get a razor-sharp image with crystal-clear clarity at all times. In the cockpit you can clearly see all of the instruments. Sully’s class ring stands out in wonderful detail on his finger. When it comes to showing planes in the sky … or in the water … you get a magnificent image that doesn’t look computer-generated at all. Eastwood allows wonderful lighting conditions to blend his scenes seamlessly. No blue or yellow tints to give us a false sense of color temperature. This is why some of us spend so much time calibrating our equipment. Not so some tech-happy filmmaker can completely screw with the reality. Black levels are as inky as you’ll get. Best image presentation on UHD in 2016.
The Dolby Atmos presentation defaults to a nice 7.1 track. When that plane hits trouble, your subs will bring you right along for the action. There’s not a lot of intrusive score here. Eastwood rarely lets music tell a lot of the story. He would rather you feel the “reality” of the images. Not that he doesn’t deliver some nice nuanced emotion with the score. All of those small details are also found here in abundance. Surrounds bring alive the sounds of engines and people talking in the background. But it’s the biting sound of that plane that will stick with you long after the final credits roll.
The extras are all on the Blu-ray copy of the film:
Moment By Moment – Averting Disaster On The Hudson: (15:45) The actual folks talk you through the transmission recordings between air traffic control and Sully on that fateful flight. We meet the real Sully, co-pilot Jeff, and Patrick, who pulled the air traffic duty that day.
Sully Sullenberger – The Man Behind The Miracle: (19:49) This is a small biography and character profile on the real man. It’s mostly in his words and those of his wife and co-pilot Jeff.
Neck Deep In The Hudson – Shooting Sully: (20:17) This is more the standard making-of feature. You get the usual cast and crew offering comments. The real players continue to be voices here. There’s a nice bit of production footage to go with the sound bites. We learn that Eastwood was the perfect director for the film. He had experienced an emergency water landing back in his 20’s.
Sully is full of tension from beginning to end, mainly because we can see how difficult it is to find real justice in the modern world, and I give all the credit in the world to a sharp-as-steel 86-year-old geezer.
Parts of this review were written by Gino Sassani