Starring: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Mike O’Malley, Jamey Sheridan, Anna Gunn, Holt McCallany, Chris Bauer, Ann Cusack, Max Adler, Sam Huntington, Jeffrey Nordling, Michael Rappaport, Jerry Ferrera
Directed By: Clint Eastwood

Awards season is getting into high gear, and Sully is one of the first out of the gate. It’s hard being early, because you really have to maintain momentum. Sully is doing great at the box office, which should help, but then again so did Gone Girl. And, honestly, Gone Girl was a better film.

Sully is an exercise in stretching for time, but doing a really good job of it. It ended up pushing the film to about 1:40, but it’s really only like 1:20 if you get into the grit of the film. Clint Eastwood gets away with stretching this story by padding it heavily. We watch the crash a few times, I suppose under the guise of “getting a fresh perspective”, but really it’s because there’s not much to this story. At one point, Eastwood tries to introduce us to some of the passengers, but it’s more of a facial recognition thing than anything else. We don’t really learn anything about their lives, or their stories. The only person who is an actual fully developed character is Sully.

Even Aaron Eckhart, arguably the second most important character in this story, is relegated to just being a prop for Sully. We learn nothing about him, his life, his family, or how he felt outside of how he interacts with Sully. Instead of giving Eckhart a scene to shine on his own, or a shot at a supporting nomination, we only see him interacting with Sully. It’s a shame, because Eckhart is a stronger actor than the material he was given. Same could be said for Laura Linney, another amazing actor, who doesn’t have anything to do except talk to Sully over the phone. I’m convinced she shot all of her scenes in one day. I can’t imagine it took more than two, tops. She’s in the same place, and always on the phone.

Instead of attempting to introduce us to passengers with zero follow through, I think more scenes with Linney/Eckhart not just reacting to Sully would have made this a better film. There’s literally a scene with Jerry Ferrera, a fairly recognizable actor, that goes nowhere. He’s one of the rescue men, but we never really see HIM rescue anyone specifically. He gets lost in the sea of faces. Why even bother?

Since Eastwood has gone out of his way to make this film only about Sully, it stands to reason that Tom Hanks is fucking phenomenal as Sully. It’s a showcase of his acting skills from the first frame to the last. He carries this film on his shoulders, elevating it from being disappointing to being kinda good. Scenes that wouldn’t work with a lesser actor, work because he brings something different to each take. He’s more anxious, more focused, more calm, more whatever the scene requires. I honestly lost Hanks in the role, and started to see only Sully, which is amazing because of how easily recognizable he is. There aren’t any makeup cheats helping him, he’s doing it all through acting. He doesn’t even hide behind a bizarre accent. He just is acting his face off.

And that’s where we’re at. Will the Academy recognize what seems like a very easy performance from Tom Hanks, but it actually that much better? He doesn’t have any help from effects, or supporting cast, or anything, and he’s still fantastic. I honestly think this is some of his best work, right up there with Forrest Gump and Philadelphia. I think he’s actually better here than he was in either Captain Phillips or Bridge Of Spies, for which he was ignored. Now is the perfect time to be talking about Tom Hanks, because he is actually worthy of a nomination. It’s not just “another solid performance” from Hanks, but rather a career defining work for which he should be remembered.

While the film itself is a bit of a mess, and I wouldn’t want to see it in consideration for any other Oscar, I absolutely hope Hanks hears his name called as a nominee this year. He’s the best reason to go enjoy Sully, and without him, I would be scoring this film a lot lower.

Without Hanks… probably a C+.

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