On Thursday, January 15th, 2009, the world witnessed the "Miracle on the Hudson" when Captain Chesley Sullenberger, nicknamed "Sully" & is portrayed by Tom Hanks glided his disabled plane onto the frigid waters of the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 aboard. However, even as Sully was being heralded by the public and the media for his unprecedented feat of aviation skill, an investigation was unfolding that threatened to destroy his reputation and his career.
Is it possible we've started to take Tom Hanks for granted? He gives another remarkable, moving performance as the real-life "Hero on the Hudson" Chesley Sullenberger in 'Sully', yet with awards season now underway at the time of this review, there's very little buzz about Hanks' work here or of the work of Director Clint Eastwood, who once again delivers a movie that looks like it was directed by someone half (or even a quarter) of his own age.
In other filmmakers' hands, 'Sully' probably would have either been a straightforward bio picture, or one that gave us melodramatic looks at some of the lives of some of the different passengers aboard the flight that Capt. Sullenberger successfully water-landed in New York City (saving all 155 aboard). There is a touch of both those things in Eastwood's movie (his 35th as a director), but the story focuses primarily on the NTSB investigation of the incident, and – more importantly cinematically – at Sully's own lingering doubts about whether he indeed did the right thing under the circumstances. Despite his heroics, Sully feels haunted by what happened.
Instead of opening with the events of the incident, the movie instead gives it to us in small pieces, until showing how it all unfolded about two-thirds of the way through. The beginning of the movie is actually post-crash (or as Sully would put it, a "successful water landing"), as the NTSB investigators (played by Mike O'Malley, Jamey Sheridan, and Anna Gunn) doubt Sully's insistence that both of the engines went out (they think he may have lost just one) and that the plane was unable to make it back to an available runway. They've run computer simulations of the event, and the plane is able to make it back in every one of their flight scenarios. For Sully, it's not just about proving he made the right choice – it's about his future. As an aging pilot nearing the end of his career, a decision against him not only means forced retirement...it means a loss of his pension.
If 'Sully' has a weak point, it's in the role of the captain's wife, Lorrie (Laura Linney), whose part here is limited to talking to Sully over the phone and giving him her support. The two never share a scene together in the movie, and I'm guessing viewers could come away from this film with the impression that Sully cares more about his career than he does his family back at home (which I'm pretty sure is not the message the filmmakers are trying to convey). On the other hand, the best supporting role is Aaron Eckart as Sully's First Officer Jeff Skiles, who never wavers in support of the captain. He also gets to deliver the best (and, in fact, the final) line of the film when the NTSB board asks him in retrospect if there's anything they would have done differently during the flight.
But 'Sully' really is ultimately yet another chance for Tom Hanks to disappear inside a character. I'm not sure he's ever gotten the credit he's due when it comes to his range as an actor, but if there were any doubt, take a look at this movie and see if you don't agree. On its surface, it appears to be a very restrained performance, but there's so much happening behind his eyes that Hanks is able to convey much of Sully's personality and feelings without ever verbalizing them. The teaming of Hanks and Eastwood works so well here, the only question is what took these two guys so long to finally do a movie together?
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Sully' lands on home video in this Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack. The 50GB Blu-ray and dual-layer DVD are housed inside an eco-friendly Elite keepcase along with a code for an UltraViolet copy of the movie. A slipcover with artwork matching that of the keepcase slides overtop. Both the Blu-ray and the DVD are front-loaded with trailers for 'Collateral Beauty', 'Live By Night', The Accountant, and Suicide Squad. Also included is a promo ad for digital movies from Warner Bros. The main menu is the standard Warners' design, with a still image of Tom Hanks as Sully and menu selections across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is region-free.
'Sully' was shot digitally, using Arri Alexa equipment. Although a big chunk of the movie's scenes were shot for IMAX presentation on the Arri Alexa 65, this home video version of the movie retains the 2:40:1 aspect ratio throughout - meaning a cropping of the IMAX footage. As a movie with a big chunk of the scenes that take place on a plane, much of the image here leans toward the blue side of things, both when the flight is in the air and after it has landed on the icy waters of the Hudson. Other scenes, like those of Sully's wife back home, take on a slightly warmer look – although no one would ever accuse 'Sully' of being a colorful picture.
Black levels are fairly deep here, although there's never really any scenes that truly delve into the dark (even some nighttime scenes in New York City are pretty well lit – thanks largely in part to the natural lighting from numerous city lights). Skin tones look natural and realistic throughout, and details – both facialfeatures and in general – are well defined. I detected no issues with aliasing or banding during my viewing.
While 'Sully' doesn't quite approach reference-quality in terms of its transfer, this is still a very good looking Blu-ray, and viewers should be quite happy with what they get on this release.
Just as in theaters, 'Sully' gets a full-blown Dolby Atmos mix on Blu-ray (which downgrades to Dolby TrueHD 7.1 for those without an Atmos home theater), although it's primarily only noticeable during the scenes in the film involving aircraft (otherwise, 'Sully' is basically a dialogue-heavy film). So while the audio does a pretty good job with immersion from all directions when the plane is in trouble during the movie, it's barely registerable at many other points when the characters are just talking to one another. Still, there's no denying that Warners has provided the best-sounding version of the movie possible, and with no glitches or problems to speak of, this ranks as a very good listen, although not a must-have for Atmos aficionados as the soundtrack really only comes "alive" during those moments in the air and following the crash.
In addition to the Atmos track, a 5.1 English Descriptive Audio track is available, as are 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks in French, Spanish (Latin), and Portuguese (Brazilian). Subtitles are an option in English SDH, French, Spanish (Latin), and Portuguese.
Led by a great performance by Tom Hanks, Director Clint Eastwood delivers another cinematic winner, giving us some added insight into the man who saved 155 lives on the Hudson. With one of our best actors and best directors flying the ship, it's no miracle why this movie works so well. Recommended.