Clint Eastwood’s latest film flies high

Josh Axelrod, Contributing Reporter

Based on the famous “Miracle on the Hudson” emergency water landing, Clint Eastwood’s newest film, “Sully,” is a thrilling drama that is a love letter to the working men of America and is a powerful testament to competence.

On Jan. 15, 2009, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger landed US Airways Flight 1549 on New York’s Hudson River after a flock of birds knocked out both of the jet’s engines. Unlike the plane that Sully was forced to land, this film soars, achieving yet another late-career victory for Eastwood.

Tom Hanks plays the title character with reliable everyman charisma. Hanks’ excellence comes as no surprise, but his gruffer-than-usual portrayal is a slight departure from past roles. (Funny sidenote: media outlets, including the Washington Post, are tallying Sully as “the last straw” in a string of Tom Hanks transportation disaster films including “Captain Phillips,” “Castaway” and “Apollo 13.” The final verdict: never travel with Tom Hanks.)

Other standouts are Aaron Eckhart in an understated performance as Sully’s co-pilot and character actors Mike O’Malley, Anna Gunn and Jamey Sheridan as members of the National Transportation Safety Board.

The NTSB expressed discontent with its depiction and controversy has emerged that the film doesn’t quite stick to the facts, but if you’re able to suspend disbelief, these concerns won’t sully the immense entertainment of the biopic.

At the heart of “Sully” is a hero who’s struggling to come to terms with a traumatic experience. This emotional wreckage is expertly conveyed with a solid — albeit sometimes cheesy — screenplay and beautiful cinematography. The succession of fantasy and real-life plane crash sequences, filmed with almost all IMAX cameras, both terrifies and enthralls.

Eastwood’s sure-handed direction makes “Sully” yet another affecting and enjoyable entry on the 86-year-old’s impressive resume. The director, fascinated with stories of perseverance and heroism, offers Captain Sullenberger a stirring tribute and transcends what could have easily been trite Oscar-bait.

Just as “Argo” and “Captain Phillips” prove, dramas based on true stories where the happy ending is inevitable takes no thrill out of the ride. Tense, riveting and genuinely heartwarming, “Sully” is, simply put, an example of excellent American filmmaking.

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