Thursday, September 08, 2016

The X Factor


Ding dong, the summer movie season is done.

Thank Gwyneth!

Don’t get it twisted: I very much enjoyed taking sides in the two superhero civil wars we got to witness, enjoying the Marvelous one more than the other due, of course, to its clearer motivations and funner campaign. It was a blast seeing Ralph Fiennes create A Bigger Splash in a supporting turn none of us should soon forget, and watching how director Justin Lin reset things to take Star Trek Beyond (and how he set certain shots to create a surprisingly immersive experience). I also wholeheartedly bought into Andy Samberg as a Popstar, then, in rapid fashion, forgot all about his Never Stop Never Stopping.

Oh yes – I’m doing a fire sale. Why? Because I honestly didn’t feel like the lot of the stuff I saw was worth spending hours thinking up s--- to write for the sake of writing, knowwhatImean. Except for A Bigger Splash, but oh well...hindsight.

I mean, Independence Day: Resurgence? It was big and loud and unfocused. Should I have rooted for newcomer Jessie T. Usher or for Liam Hemsworth, who still seems to be aiming for leading-man status? I for real couldn’t tell a couple of months ago, and I don’t care to now. And I guess The Nice Guys were kinda cool (OK, the chemistry between Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling was pretty palpable, but that movie meandered off the rails in the second half, no?), and The Shallows was an intensely serviceable time at the beach, albeit one that jarringly flirted with the absurd and the pandering. Blake Lively’s lean girl-against-shark yarn fared infinitely better than the uninventive and unengaging Suicide Squad hodgepodge and in Woody Allen’s stunningly photographed, yet hopeless Café Society.

Speaking of quote-unquote grown-up options – almost done with this train of thought – Meryl Streep’s bad Florence Foster Jenkins singing was piercingly divine, but I am not about to sing her praises in the name of a potential record 20th Academy Award nod. Not until the heavy hitters of fall and the Decemberists make their mark, anyway.

All this to say you gotta catch Sully.

Politics aside, Clint Eastwood generally succeeds at making audiences use their heads to think about what they’re seeing and their hearts to feel for whom they’re watching up on that silver screen, and he excels at it with his take on the Jan. 15, 2009, Miracle on the Hudson.” You know, the real-life feat of heroism whereby Capt. Chesley Sully Sullenberger – portrayed here by Tom Hanks, in a performance worthy of, at least, an Oscar nod – and how he incredibly saved the lives of the 154 other people on board his LaGuardia-to-Charlotte US Airways flight, after a flock of geese knocked out both of the plane’s engines.

Eastwood takes the subtle, yet informatively propulsive script by Todd Komarnicki (who based it on Highest Duty, the tome co-authored by Sullenberger in the ordeal’s aftermath), and delivers a film that doesn’t give up all the goodies you wanna see upfront à la Flight. Instead, the filmmaker parses the profound enormity of Sully & Co.’s circumstances – btw, Aaron Eckhart shines in a supporting turn as Jeff Skiles, Sullenberger’s first officer and co-pilot that fateful day – with the help of a non-linear narrative that clues us in on the career pilot’s earned prowess...and ramps up to a sustained what-happened-up-in-the-air moment.

Sully is quietly engrossing. I mean, it’s quite som’in’ to go into a movie about a plane crash and see nothing like, explode. And that’s what makes this film special because it truly is a story about survival, as well as an essential account of American compassion. When Sullenberger’s plane hit the frigid Hudson, anyone who could sprung into action to get the frightened passengers to warm safety.

No joke, I got seriously misty watching the sequence because it was as if I was watching America embrace those who need it most.

Now Sully is a film. One that beautifully captures a deed worth celebrating, and that shines a light on the investigation that inevitable had to follow the incident. The National Transportation Safety Board, as embodied by a hardass Mike O’Malley and a smug Jamey Sheridan, is the antagonist here – but y know, those guys, the real-life ones, they were doing their job...so I use the word with a caveat.

Eastwood certainly seems to have gone to great lengths not to vilify them, so, in that regard, it all comes down to Hanks, and the actor doesn’t go for the jugular.

Not his style.

The two-time Oscar winner does portray Sullenberger with the utmost dignity, and if you think that he is taking some pleasure when the questioning of his actions comes to a head, well then, perhaps, that’s on you. However, what I will put on Eastwood and Komarnicki is not finding a more interesting use for Laura Linney, a three-time Oscar nominee, who, as Lorraine Sullenberger, only can prop up Hanks’ performance via heartfelt phone conversations.

There also was an observation I wanted to make about Eastwood’s treatment of the media circus that ensued at the time – nearly imperceptible jabs I may have imagined, to be honest – but that would be taking more away from Sully, and that man deserves that this particular moment be all about him because without him, we’d be having a much different discussion.

I will say two more things, though. First, we need more movies like this one. Too often we get movies about wartime heroes (like Eastwood’s own American Sniper), and those can be awesome, but they always involve death. This one’s about life. Second, maybe, now the director and Hanks can find a project on which they can reunite with Linney and prop her up, for a change?

Just a thought.

My Rating ***1/2

Photo: HollywoodReporter.com.

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