I'm happily surprised that such a low-key biopic like Sully would debut as a #1 film. Perhaps everybody just felt like going out and seeing a good movie.
Although the 2009 "Miracle on the Hudson" incident, in which Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger safely landed a damaged passenger jet on the Hudson River, seems tailor made for the big screen – you've got a brave hero, a dramatic rescue, a story that inspired millions of people – Clint Eastwood and his team actually had their work cut out for them, since the entire event, from the moment U.S. Airways flight 1549 was struck by a flock of birds to the time the passengers were whisked away by New York ferry boats, only took about half an hour. How do you stretch that out to feature-length and keep it interesting?
Screenwriter Todd Komarnicki tackles the issue by taking Sullenberger's autobiography Highest Duty and filling the script with flashbacks, dream sequences, and phone calls between Sully (Tom Hanks, playing it as humbly as possible) and his wife (Laura Linney), while the main drama unfolds after the incident, with the National Transportation Safety Board investigating whether Sully made the right decision, or if he could have returned to the airport in time.
If that all sounds convoluted, or dull, in practice it actually works. Mainly because the film is as gentle and straightforward as Sully himself. I found the lack of melodrama and forced suspense to be refreshing. Others might find Sully a little humdrum.
What I respect most about the film is its cast of thousands; Eastwood and Komarnicki give just about every single one of them his or her own little moment. Not only is it a generous gift to the cast – everyone gets a nice scene for their reel! – it underscores the theme of the movie: that the success of the landing was not the result of a single heroic individual but of teamwork and cooperation. It's a nicely democratic, old-school American idea. Capraesque, in its way. It's only too bad that Sully fails to mention Sullenberger's later fight against pilot pay cuts and lost pensions. It would have provided a bittersweet closing note – perhaps, Eastwood figured, too bittersweet.