2016 TELLURIDE FILM FESTIVAL: It’s hard to believe it’s been 16 years since Tom Hanks was last nominated for an Academy Award. The two-time Oscar winner’s last nom came for “Castaway” (2000), and all he’s done since is turn out great performances in “Road to Perdition” (2002), “Catch Me If You Can” (2002), “Captain Phillips” (2013) and “Bridge of Spies” (2015), among others. So will Clint Eastwood‘s latest biopic, “Sully,” be Hanks’ ticket back to the red carpet of the Dolby Theatre?
“Sully” recalls the memorable events of the 2009 “Miracle on the Hudson,” when Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Hanks) landed an Airbus A320-214 passenger plane onto the waters of the Hudson River. By pulling off this incredible crash-landing, Sully was able to save the lives of all 155 passengers on board. Eastwood and Hanks take us beyond the incredible feat of aviation, and into the investigation that followed which threatened to end the pilot’s career.
An experienced pilot for over 40 years, Sully had only 208 seconds to react when both engines on his plane went out following a collision with a flock of birds. Despite the immediate reaction by the media to call Sully a hero, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) takes a closer examination into Sully’s decision to land on the Hudson rather than return to LaGuardia Airport. The NTSB has computer evidence and multiple flight simulations that show a safe return to the airport would not only have been possible, but probable in its outcome. On top of this, the NTSB is suspicious that the left engine might not have been fully out, and rather was possibly just idling. The inquiry leaves Sully questioning whether or not he was reckless with the lives of the passengers on board, and as a result suffers from a series of nightmares and visions of what could have happened if his plane had crashed in New York City. Having had little time to calculate the return, Sully and first officer Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) must defend the audacious decision to land in the Hudson armed only with experience and gut intuition.
With “Sully,” Eastwood delivers his best film since 2004’s Best Picture winner, “Million Dollar Baby.” His balance of storytelling between the “miracle” and the NTSB investigation are handled handsomely. The initial emergency landing sequence is expertly done, as we transition back and forth between the cockpit, departure control and the experience of the passengers on board. Hanks is spectacular, as always, playing the character with a genuine mix of vulnerability and fortitude.
Is it possible that Hanks receives his sixth nomination and first since 2000? Yes. But I think it is even more likely that this film finds itself with a Best Picture nomination on January 24th. As for Eastwood, if he were to win Director, he would break his own record as the oldest winner of all time (86). Even a nomination would break John Huston’s record for oldest nominated director (“Prizzi’s Honor”). It would be an unprecedented achievement for the living legend. But as Hanks’ Sully says in the film, everything is unprecedented until it happens for the first time.