Blu-ray Review: Sully

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There's a riveting documentary series called Mayday that covers airliner disasters using interviews with real-life survivors, aviation experts, and dramatized recreations. Clint Eastwood's Sully, a docu-drama about the 2009 "Miracle on the Hudson" emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549, plays like a big-budget version of that TV series. In fact, Mayday tackled the very same incident in a 2011 episode, "Hudson River Runway." What is great about Mayday is that its producers are fully aware of the "foregone conclusion" of the cases they examine (most end much less favorably than Flight 1549, of course). The suspense lies in the 'how' and 'why' these various malfunctions and errors occurred. Eastwood has to work hard to instill even a minimal sense of real suspense in Sully, which is pitched halfway between courtroom drama and disaster film.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has issued Sully on Blu-ray (also 4K UltraHD, DVD, and Digital HD). Quite frankly it's not a very good movie. Boosted by the star power of Tom Hanks, who tries to find a character to play in this depiction of Captain "Sully" Sullenberger, and the high public awareness of the real-life story, Sully was a solid box office performer. But Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki (who adapted Sullenberger's memoir Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters) have difficulty filling out the feature film even to its relatively short 96 minutes. They even resort to inserted stock "disaster movie" supporting characters (a dad and his sons on the way to a gold tournament) that add a highly unwelcome soap opera element. 

SULLY tom hanks.jpg No spoiler alert necessary—the ditching of Flight 1549 in the Hudson following a bird strike, and subsequent survival of all 155 passengers and crew (without truly significant injury), is not only a matter of public record but it has already become something of a legend. Sully and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart, upstaged by his mustache) come under investigation by the NTSB, standard operation procedure in these situations. Most of the passengers suffered some form of minor injury (not to mention understandably serious mental trauma) and the airliner itself was a total write-off. The post-ditching investigation is Eastwood's primary focus. After all, there were only 208 seconds between the bird strike and the plane touching down in the water. We see that portion of the flight play out in CG-recreations several times, but it still leaves a lot of time to fill.

Eastwood paints the investigators as "villains" for the most part, more interested in blaming Sully and Skiles than acknowledging their skill. The extent to which this depiction is true is a matter of contention (NTSB officials involved in the case claim they're inaccurately demonized). Regardless, Eastwood piles the melodrama on thick, directing his actors to wear their one-note emotions on their sleeves (Breaking Bad's Anna Gunn is particularly underutilized as a review board member). 
SULLY aaron eckhart.jpg Warner's Blu-ray offers a flawless presentation of Tom Sterns' digital cinematography. Audio is offered Dolby Atmos, which defaults to Dolby TrueHD 7.1 for those (like me) who aren't Atmos-equipped. Most of Sully is dialogue driven, but the surround mix really comes alive during the big action-oriented sequence.

Special features: "Neck Deep in the Hudson: Shooting Sully" (20 minutes) is an interesting look at the technical challenges in staging the ditching; "Sully Sullenberger: The Man Behind the Miracle" (20 minutes) gives us a slightly more in-depth look at the man's life; "Moment by Moment: Averting Disaster on the Hudson" (15 minutes) tries to do what the Mayday TV series has already done better. Do seek out that episode for a much better documentary look at the incident. There's also a feature-length National Geographic documentary called Miracle Landing on the Hudson for those looking to commit even more time to a straightforward account.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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