When being interviewed for the film Hitchcock/Truffaut, director David Fincher said “If you think you can hide what your interests are, what your prurient interests are, what your noble interests are, what your fascinations are, if you think you can hide that in your work as a film director, you’re nuts.”
Fincher is an experienced and undeniably accomplished director and I think this is a very insightful statement about the craft of film making. When you examine the body of work of any film maker at the level of Hitchcock, Fincher or Scorsese, you are going to be seeing the personal and perhaps subconscious interests of that film maker on display for all the world to see, whether that film maker wants them to be seen or not. This is definitely true for Clint Eastwood.
Clint Eastwood is a surprisingly prolific film maker. He established himself as an American icon in the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone such as a Fistful of Dollars or the Good, the Bad and the Ugly in the 1960s and then going on to the Dirty Harry series in the 1970s and 80s. But acting was only one of his interests when it came to film making. When he became a superstar in the late 60s, he was finally able to realize his dream of directing his own movie projects and in 1971 he debuted his first effort, Play Misty for Me, which was a financial and critical success. He followed this up with the supernatural western High Plains Drifter in 1973, where he again played the iconic Man with No Name, but this time with a twist. He stood the standard tropes of the American Western on their head, prompting John Wayne to write him a letter saying “This isn’t what the West was all about. That isn’t the American people who settled this country.” True enough but Wayne was missing the point.
I am not suggesting that all of Eastwood’s film share a common theme or are the same story told over and over again because that’s not true at all. If you look over Eastwood’s work, though, you see the man behind the camera and you see his interests and fascinations and values. Like all of us, they are multi-layered and some even change over the years with age and experience.
However, there are themes to his work and one of them is that there is a human story behind the icons we create which we often don’t see. When a person does something extraordinary and becomes regarded as a hero, they become an icon. When we think or talk about these icons, we are not seeing people but the heroic acts they engaged in which set them above us common folk. But in the process, we forget that they are real people just like you and me who get up in the morning, have to eat and deal with their spouses and kids, go to work and deal with the mundane details of real life. More importantly, as people they also have to deal with the consequences of their actions.
This seemed to be missed in Eastwood’s last movie, Americna Sniper, at least here in the US, where people’s patrotism or lack of it made them see that film only in terms of pro-war and pro-military propaganda. They missed the real point of Eastwood was trying to make, which for me was that killing people has a cost, regardless of the reasons why you are doing it and perhaps especially when you are made into a hero because of it. He wasn’t making a documentary about Chris Kyle, but using Kyle as an icon to demonstrate a point. As he put it, “The biggest antiwar statement any film can make is to show what war does to the family and the people who have to go back into civilian life like Chris Kyle did…In World War II, everybody just sort of went home and got over it. Now there is some effort to help people through it. In Chris Kyle’s case, no good deed went unpunished.”
And so we come to Eastwood’s latest movie, Sully, about US Airways captain Chesley Sullenberger, who heroically saved all 155 people aboard flight 1549 in New York after a flight of birds destroyed both engines and forced him to make a water landing on the Hudson River since he could not make it back to La Guardia or any other nearby airport in the mere seconds of airflight he had available to him.
As a movie, this works on all levels. Eastwood is a meticulous director and every detail is taken care of, with accurate recreations of every aspect of the flight itself as well as the investigation which occurred afterward. Tom Hanks delivers in spades as Sully but so does every other actor involved, especially Aaron Eckhart as his co-pilot Jeff Skies and Laura Linney as Sully’s wife, Lorraine.
So when all the production values are taken care of, when the writing and script and casting are dead-on, when the sets and direction are nearly flawless, what do you have? You have a movie experience that takes you behind the scenes to explore that human factor behind the heroic icon we made of Captain Sully. A man who immediately after saving every one of his passengers from what should have been sure death, suffered from self-doubt and even a kind of PTSD, who questioned not whether saving them made him a hero but whether in saving them, he had acted rashly and had somehow put them in more danger than the situation warranted. Despite everyone calling him a hero, Sully is plagued by these fears and it is the examination of what this can do to a person and how they are overcome that this movie is really about.
I can’t recommend this movie enough for everyone. There are other statements and themes being explored in Sully, but in the end it is a testament to competence and greatness in the face of disaster and how all of us make that a reality just by showing up and doing our jobs. When you see this movie, you will learn things. You will experience a full gamut of emotions, some of which may well surprise you in how they come out of nowhere. And you will leave the theater feeling just incredible. Without question, this film gets a rating of Sheer Awesome. Go see it.
Thank you for watching.