I was firmly in #TeamDavid when it came down to who you sided with on ABC’s At the Movies – either Mr Stratton or Ms Pomeranz. And it was something he said once about Clint Eastwood that stuck (it was, coincidentally something she said about Clint that also helped the case against #TeamMargaret: “He makes men’s films!”) when he was talking about Gran Torino: Eastwood is one of the last ‘classicist’ directors. That’s 100% fact: if you look back over his 35 features as a director, he never goes out of his way to be clever, or elaborate. His camera doesn’t go to extraordinary places; his use of visual effects is always (always) in the service of the story. Once the story is told, the film ends.
Sully is a case in point with this old school auteur’s approach. It’s matter-of-fact story telling; everything (performances, dialogue, score, sound) is pared down; it is simply edited and told without the first hint of melodrama or hype. And at a sparse 96 minutes in length, it gets it done quickly with the bare minimum of fat. It tells the story which most people would know anyhow – that a plane flew into the path of some geese; both engines failed and without the opportunity to get the plane back to the airport, the pilot makes a water landing in new York’s Hudson River. Nobody died. It was ‘The Miracle on the Hudson’.
Tom Hanks, again, understated and unassuming, is great as the titular character. He’s just a guy doing his job. He did it well, but the burden of heroism thrust upon him is almost as harsh as the burden of mastering a water landing in sub-zero temperatures. There’s a moment of greatness, when (post-crash) he’s in the hospital and he is informed that nobody was lost – that all persons were accounted for; there’s a look of palpable relief on his face that marks one of the key emotional moments in the film.
So we have this notion that the end result is a fiat-accompli. When you get down to it, the event itself took just over three minutes from take off to ‘landing’, and the rescue on the river had every last passenger accounted for inside of 25 minutes. Pretty amazing stuff. But Eastwood’s film – replete with non-linear narrative – is mostly about how to go about doing your job; the value of not being thought of as a hero for doing same; how bureaucrats can really bugger things up without all the facts at hand. And as he manages to put together a film where we know the outcome from the first seconds, he still puts it together with a dab hand for tension, suspense and heightened drama. Every last frame of this thing makes it look like this is the easiest thing in the world for him.
Eastwood’s screen credits aren’t perfect, but you never see a film of his where you think he’s just phoning it in. Sully ranks among his best work. Great film.