Clint Eastwood’s late-period films as a director have often examined what it means to be a “hero,” and he finds an ideal subject in Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks), the airline pilot who executed a miraculously successful emergency landing on the Hudson River in January 2009. Screenwriter Todd Komarnicki gets risky with his structure weaving back and forth in time between the post-crash NTSB investigation, brief glimpses of Sully’s youth, and eventually—only after around the 30 minute mark—the events of the fateful day itself. It’s a narrative that at times feels thin, spending time with a few of the lucky passengers or the air-traffic controller trying to assist Sully, in a way that often comes off as padding. But Eastwood has his secret weapon in Hanks, who navigates Sully’s struggles with post-traumatic stress, becoming a media celebrity, and trying to defend himself against suggestions that his decisions were risky, all in a way that retains humanity rather than turning him into a statue. The taut procedural approach to the crash itself and Hanks’ gift for making earnestness compelling provide the foundation for a solid profile in just-doing-my-job heroism.
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