The 400-Word Review: Sully
By Sean Collier
September 12, 2016

I'd be friends with Tom Hanks *and* Sully Sullenberger.

On the surface, Sully is not a very good movie.

The title performance by Tom Hanks is as strong as you’d expect, and supporting turns from Aaron Eckhart and Laura Linney are fine. Clint Eastwood’s direction is dramatic and evocative, as his work often is. The film’s key sequence — recreating Capt. Chesley Sullenberger’s dramatic, but ultimately successful, attempt to land a passenger jet on the Hudson River — is captivating.

There’s just not a full movie there, by any stretch.

The true story is an affirming tale of real-life heroism. But it’s not enough a narrative to stretch into a film. The real incident lasted a total of 204 seconds, as mentioned repeatedly in Sully. Stretching that into a (barely) full-length movie requires jumping jacks from screenwriter Todd Komarnicki.

Among the tactics: Showing the sequence depicting the crash, in full, twice, including many repeated shots. Showing four separate attempts to recreate the flight in a computer simulator. Throwing in completely unresolved scenes visiting passengers en route to the flight. And an extended credits sequence reuniting Sullenberger and some of the plane’s passengers.

Even with all of that, Eastwood only managed to stretch things to 91 minutes.

That’s the surface.

Below the surface, Sully is also a tone-deaf work of 9/11 exploitation — a callous film that covers up its own dramatic shortcomings by invoking a national tragedy.

Repeated references to the 9/11 attacks are made during the film, but that was probably inevitable. What was not necessary was the creation of two separate scenes in which Sullenberger envisions what might’ve happened had his efforts not been successful.

Both of these sequences realistically depict the plane crashing into buildings in Manhattan.

There have been innumerable invocations of 9/11 in cinema, some more tasteful than others. But the motivation here is the problem: Because there’s little suspense inherent in the film (we know how it turns out), the shadow of 9/11 is cast to trick audiences into a false dramatic tension. To shock them into feeling like they’ve seen an effective movie.

When I started to feel uncomfortable, I wondered whether I was being too harsh.

Then I realized that Sully is being released two days from the 15th anniversary of the attacks.

I’m not being harsh. It’s a film that exploits 9/11 to make up for its failings. The producers, and Eastwood, should be ashamed.

Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at