Veteran airline pilot Chelsey 'Sully' Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) is taking off from LaGuardia Airport with his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) when their passenger jet flies into a flock of birds and causes massive engine failure. In the space of just 208 seconds, their lives are transformed irrevocably and neither of them will ever be the same again.
Clint Eastwood's later directorial efforts, particularly American Sniper and J. Edgar, have been patchy at best. While American Sniper had some well-directed action, J. Edgar was something of a mess. Hereafter, meanwhile, was a complete washout. The story of Chelsey Sullenberger and the so-called Miracle On The Hudson is right up Eastwood's alley, of course. It's an all-American story about an experienced pilot who, in the face of certain death, manages to remain calm and save the day and bring his vast experience to bear when it was needed.
The real problem with making a film based on real-life events, particularly in the last five to ten years, is that pretty much everyone is aware of the outcome. In other words, there's no stakes attached to Sully and it's really an exploration of how he dealt with it. Even then, Sully is at a disadvantage because the whole thing was over and done with in a little over four minutes - 208 seconds, to be exact. So, how do you approach it? You make it about the people behind the story, i.e. Tom Hanks' portrayal of Sullenberger and a resurgent Aaron Eckhart as the co-pilot. The problem again is that both Sully and Silkes aren't all that interesting to begin with.
We're shown a brief cutaway from Sully's life as a combat pilot and how he safely brought down a wayward jet fighter, again demonstrating his ability to remain calm and work under pressure. It's a well directed scene and it's clear that Eastwood knows what he's about, even in aerial sequences with a lot of moving parts to them. Sully doesn't have all that much going in his personal life that's worth discussing, other than a criminally-underused Laura Linney who's essentially a voice on the telephone to him. The relationship between Sullenberger and Silkes isn't really investigated in any great depth, presumably because they're just work colleagues and the film's called Sully and not Sully and Silkes.
Yet, for all these issues, it's hard to hate the film or not get on board with it. The dialogue is crisp and the story moves with a certain assuredness that makes for a good old-fashioned yarn about saving the day with no fuss and people coming together to help. Eastwood injects enough action into the film when it's needed and there's a few moments where we see past Sully's firm grip on the situation and to a man who may have just made the right choice by blind luck. Sadly, the film doesn't delve too much into this and instead keeps the tone relatively upbeat and all about the positives; namely that everyone survived and the ditching of the plane was nothing short of miraculous.
All told, Sully is a reasonably enjoyable film that has enough going on to keep people motivated and watching, but not enough to stay with them once it's over.