At First Glance: “Sully”

Biographical films come in all shapes and sizes. Some know how to perfectly balance a subjects life, some don’t, and others just focus on one particular time in a persons life, hopefully keeping the focus nice and tight. Each can be met with varying degrees of success, but no matter how interesting the life is being portrayed, there seems to be something missing.

The upcoming Warner Bros. Pictures film “Sully”, looks like a complex character driven depiction of a hero and the consequences of his heroic actions.

This biographical drama stars Tom Hanks (upcoming “Inferno”, “A Hologram for the King”), Aaron Eckhart (upcoming films “Bleed for This”, “Incarnate”), and Laura Linney (upcoming “Nocturnal Animals”, “Genius”).

The film is directed by Clint Eastwood (“American Sniper”, “Jersey Boys”) and written by Todd Komarnicki (“Perfect Stranger”, “Resistance”). It is based on the memoir “Highest Duty” by Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger with Jeffrey Zaslow.

The film is expected to hit theaters on Sept. 9, 2016.
I don’t think I remembered about this film. I knew this film was in the works, but at some point I just stopped paying attention. Next thing I know, there’s a trailer. I was originally going to write about another upcoming film, but this just seemed too exciting to skip. So, here we are, discussing a film I didn’t think I’d be excited for at all. Amazing what can happen in the course of a few hours.

For some reason I’m wondering something. No, not just about something random, about how this film will unfold. The trailer didn’t unfold in traditional fashion, but then again, it’s a trailer, so it doesn’t have to. Structure is practically nonexistent. But one moment in this trailer made me wonder how the story’s been written and whether or not that’ll make it more dramatic and worth following.

It’s the beginning scene of the trailer. You see Hanks standing at a window, his character’s name being said, and while this progresses forward, quick flashes of the forced water landing are playing out. He’s completely consumed by this, that he doesn’t even realize his names being said. This, as it turns out, is the present. For a trailer, this is interesting and not all that surpassing. If done well, I think this type of storytelling may actually work, and that’s what I’m wondering about. Will this film just pick up with the investigation and take us through what it was like for the real Sullenberger and his family, especially as it pertains to the media attention and the investigation, all the while giving us glimpses of the landing through Hanks’ reflecting on it? Or will this film be straightforward, and begin with the flight that was forced to make a dangerous emergency landing? Either could work, but for me, one just looks better, and again, I believe can be pulled off.

One of the first things that popped into my head, which will be somewhat difficult to explain, is how much of a character driven drama this will be. It sounds dumb, but bear with me. Unlike with most biographical films I’ve seen, this film isn’t just going to have solid performances across the board, but take you really deep into the mind of Hanks’ character, and many others, that you’ll have no trouble at all getting into this emotional story, and staying through it. Add in the fact that this is an Eastwood film, where he will be able to show once more how capable he is as a director in bringing characters and their stories to life. These two bits are what makes me see this film as being something so different than other biographical films, even if it sounds kooky. The other reason I say character driven, is that I feel that while the performances in other biographical films bring to life such vibrant characters, they almost always feel like they’re just hitting specific historical marks.

These things are also why I’m wondering how the film will unfold. If we follow Hanks after the landing, but see through flashback sequences the event, we’ll be getting something akin to a side by side comparison. The emotional toll, and maybe trauma, can then be explored on so many more levels. It’ll certainly keep the audience in some sort of emotional state all the way through. Or, I could just be crazy and don’t know what I’m going on about.

I mentioned performances, so I can’t overlook Hanks, Linney, and Eckhart. Just off this trailer, they’ve all got a lot to grapple with. Hanks and Linney, rightfully so, seem to have the most to contend with. I’m intrigued but what each one of them will have to go through, as there’s apparently a lot that happened after the landing. I guess now’s a good time to mention that I didn’t pay attention to this news story at the time. I don’t know why, but I just didn’t care to. So, much like with “Truth” and “Spotlight”, there’s going to be a lot that’s new to me, and many chances for me to react emotionally that’s not like how everyone else will respond.

Biographical dramas teach us so much, but making one stand out from the others is a much more difficult task. How does one tell a complex person’s life story, or most of it? How does one tell a very specific time constrained story, but with a pacing that keeps audiences interested and not bored? There’s so much to contend with, and while performances are usually good, not all biographical films can come together nicely, for a good final film. Occasionally we find ourselves thinking that a given film deserved better. So, where will this new biographical film fall? Right now, it’s anybody’s guess.

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