The trouble with films "Based on a True Story" is the most vague hammer into the Google search bar will tell you how it ends. So to make them successful the personal story has to work. The best one's are personal struggles against one's own demons or the kind of David and Goliath/Against All Odds. Clint Eastwood taxis out an Oscar contender that somehow glides between both.
Sully : Miracle on the Hudson opens with something of a playful gambit. Using your familiarity with the story we jump straight into the cockpit with Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart, dutiful in their attempts to save the plane from crashing into the towering metropolis of Manhattan. It's a clever way to draw your audience in. The drama of the convulsing airliner should grip you - you know what's going to happen, but it's exciting. Then the plane crashes headlong into a building - bet ya didn't see that coming. It immediately invokes 9/11 in it's images before it wakes sully from his fevered dream. Whether this is exploitative or intentional is a something only Eastwood could attest. However, it does give a well documented story an unexpected twist, even if it doesn't last.
Tom Hanks plays Chesley 'Sully' Sullenberger. The pilot whom, shortly after leaving LaGuardia airport was struck by a flock of birds taking out both engines and forcing the plane to land in New York's Hudson River. It has to be said that without Hanks the film's fuselage would buckle on it's storytelling flight path. Hanks imbues sully with an honest warmth, but without the cheap schmaltz. You understand Sully and empathise with him, but he's not beyond question. This makes for suitably ambiguous testimony during the first two acts.
In spite of it's interesting opening and deftly handled characterisation from it's leading man, Sully takes flight and then relies on the autopilot. There's nothing wrong with a straight story, even if the audience know the end. Most audience members can tell you who-dun-it. So Eastwood sets up the nefarious team-up of the Airline and Evil Insurance Company, ready to twist Sully's account and hang the blame on him like a tie. The burden of Sully's doubt subtly plays out in the conversations with his wife that become increasingly distant. Oscars have been handed out for a lot less. Yet, just like it's title character, Sully : Miracle on the Hudson isn't confident in what it wants to be. Most contenders for the gold statue run upwards of two hours and there's a lot of effort put into keeping the running time a lighter 1hr 36mins. Sadly, it only makes for a less satisfying journey.
The flight itself is visited a few times during the movie. An enticing recounting of the moments leading up to incident. However, what should be a tantalising draw where more is learned each time, is pretty pedestrian by the third visit. Nothing new is gleamed. Not even another account's perspective skewing events and making you suspicious. The result by the final showdown with the big wigs is so routine, that it lacks any tense uncertainty. Not only does the tension not accumulate for a worrying clash in the final act, but there's a saccharine sweet and unearned statement it'll you'll wonder if this even really happened.
Technically Sully is a well executed and made film that seems conflicted on everything but it's destination. Sadly, while the Academy check-boxes are ticked off, it's less than the sum of it's parts.
2* - The High and The Mighty