I recall Margaret Pomeranz, when reviewing Grand Torino (2008), suggesting that as a director, Clint Eastwood spoke more directly to men than to women. It was not meant as a criticism, merely an observation… and I have come to think that perhaps Margaret was right, for my lady companion thought this was good, while I thought it outstanding. Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger was the pilot who landed that airliner on the Hudson River back in 2009.
We are all familiar with the incident itself, but its immediate aftermath of hearings and investigations into Sully’s actions is less well known. That all 155 souls aboard the plane survived seemed at times to be of less importance to officialdom than being able to nail Sully for making an inappropriate or even careless response to the crisis.
This is fertile ground for Eastwood, who is not so much concerned with overblown heroism as he is with his character(s) understanding what needs to be done and having the self-assurance and courage to do it.
At 86, he retains the clearest eye for seeing the essence of a story and, with a lifetime’s experience in the business, has an unerring understanding of the weight of any given scene – in this case, the evacuation from the aircraft, the movie’s centrepiece, is filmed with incredible emotional impact. As one who has forever been a champion of the rugged individual, he is also at pains here to stress that the aversion of disaster was a collaborative triumph to which air-crew, the NYPD, ferry captains and others, including the city of New York itself, all contributed. Tom Hanks is faultless as the man whose integrity and judgment is questioned to the point that he has visions of the fiery catastrophe that might have eventuated had he made the wrong call, while in the part of his co-pilot Jeff Skiles, Aaron Eckhardt shows appropriate understatement as the unwavering off-sider. Building slowly and with great deliberation towards Sully’s vindication, Eastwood’s remarkable output continues with what is a celebration of the human spirit.