Sully: How to pad scripts and alienate people

Skippy and Beagle met in a dusty Film Studies tute (because who goes to Film lectures?) back in 2014. The amount of times the pair have agreed on a film is about the same amount of times as you’ve used your mid-semester break to actually catch up on readings. Now, at the end of their degrees, they have realised that writing a Woroni column is the most use they will get out of their Minor, so they figure they might as well get their money’s worth.

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‘Sully’ tells the true story of Captain Sullenburger, who successfully crash-landed United Airways Flight 1549 into the Hudson River in 2009. Clint Eastwood builds upon the familiar lens of crash investigation to explore every detail around the infamous moment. Also, Tom Hanks is in it.

B:  Imagine you’ve got a 3000 word essay to do. You’ve done some research, written a plan, and figure that you’ve got enough to get there so you dive in and start writing. Before you know it, you’ve hit about 2400 words and said everything you have to say. So what do you do? You pad. You explore every point, over examine every angle, and flog that horse until it’s as dead as your hopes for an HD after week 7. That’s what ‘Sully’ feels like.

S:  I think you’re being a bit harsh. How else can you make a movie about the 240 seconds following a plane’s engine breaking down without padding?  

B:  Easy – just don’t make the movie! It’s a pretty obvious and predictable cash grab if you ask me. That doesn’t mean that the whole thing is without merit, but at the end of the day, I think somewhere along the line somebody should have said, “hold on, there is only about 60 minutes of content here, max”.

S:  I’m sure there was someone who said exactly that, which is why they capped it at 96 minutes – pretty short for a modern day blockbuster. In terms of the merit, I think there are some incredibly strong moments. The way Clint Eastwood recreated the crash is phenomenal. As an audience member, I don’t think you could’ve felt more involved in the crash unless you were in one of those 4-D cinemas and actually felt the water splashing around your ankles.

B:  Foath. From the moment the plane takes off, to when all the passengers are accounted for, ‘Sully’ is genuinely gripping. I’m always impressed by films that can create an emotional response even though the audience already knows the plot – it highlights that it’s often how you tell the story that matters, rather than the content itself.

S:  In terms of content though, I got really stuck on Eastwood’s attempt to humanise the passengers. I couldn’t stop cringing at the introductory scene where everyone boarded the plane, creating the chummiest group of flyers I’ve ever seen.  When do ever you see a group of strangers smiling and laughing with each other before a flight takes off? You don’t. In my experience flying, it always seems to be the complete opposite, so to see Eastwood’s characters carry on in such an artificially friendly way, was frankly annoying.

B:  Yeah, I had similar issues with the attempt to make Sully’s home life more dramatic. You could have heard my eyes rolling when his wife called him to say that they still hadn’t found tenants for their investment property. Poor guys!

S:  Those types of moments were used by Eastwood to make the movie more about the American Dream etc. etc. rather than just the crash. Pretty ambitious, and I guess perhaps not effective?

B:  The film student in me wants be believe it was an attempt to add thematic layers, as you say, but the realist in me thinks it was just poor storytelling. The 15th anniversary of 9/11 was last week, so the timing of the film’s release was probably a deliberate choice. How do you think the film dealt with these issues?

S:  I would’ve liked to see them addressed more directly, because to me, when watching the scenes where the airplane was flying dangerously close to the New York skyline unfold, all I could think about was 9/11.  

B:  See, I thought the opposite in terms of directness. There were some pretty heavy-handed 9/11 references in there, which I don’t think we needed – you’d have to be pretty clueless to see planes flying through New York and not be reminded of the World Trade Centres. I did like the way the film focused on the ability of New York’s citizens to pitch in and help though, it appropriated some of the nicer sentiments from 9/11, without stoking the vengeful side of American patriotism.

S:  I do think some of the reason why Sully was historically lauded as such a hero was because the 2009 crash came off the back of 9/11. The contexts were just so similar, so I think it is hard to separate the two events, even subconsciously. The crash shows the flipside of the 9/11 tragedy, in the way that it represents a miracle, and the strength of the American spirit.  

B:  All in all, I was pleasantly surprised about how well this story was told, although some of the additions were disappointing. 2.5 Beagles.

S:  I’m a bit of a sucker for Tom Hanks, so I’m bumping it up to 3 Skippy’s.