Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Sully

“The Magnificent Seven” remake is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

I’ve always wondered what it’s like to make enough of an impact on the world that someone makes a movie about your life while you’re alive to see it. I suppose it depends on the slant the movie takes, and whether or not it portrays you in a favorable or unfavorable light. Given that, the real-life Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger must feel pretty good.

Sullenberger is portrayed by Tom Hanks in “Sully,” and the casting is perfect. Hanks has long traded on his everyman personae, and it fits in quite nicely with the character of Sully. This is a regular, decent, caring, good-natured man who is thrust into a perilous situation when on the morning of Thursday, January 15th, 2009, he and co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) were forced to make an emergency water landing on the Hudson River.

Also known as the “Miracle on the Hudson,” all 155 lives on board the plane survived the treacherous landing. Sully was immediately touted as a hero for his clear thinking and decisive action that saved everyone’s life. He’s an ordinary man who was put into an extraordinary situation and came out a hero.

To be sure, the events of that morning are exciting and suspenseful. The two pilots are completely caught off guard by the dual engine failure that forced the water landing. “Sully” recreates the events multiple times in order to give us a complete picture of how things went down, and in a gut-wrenching dream sequence, how things could have gone horribly, massively wrong. Director Clint Eastwood shows that 45 years after directing his first feature film, “Play Misty for Me,” he still has a vivid imagination and a penchant for showing real life violence and destruction in all of its horror.

The logistical problem, story-wise, is that the events of that morning—suspenseful and life-changing as they are—are also relatively short. As Sully says, “I’ve got 40 years in the air. But in the end, I’m going to be judged on 208 seconds.” That’s three minutes and twenty-eight seconds. Think about it: In roughly the time that it takes to listen to the average pop song, the core event of this movie happened.

The challenge for screenwriter Todd Komarnicki was to find the drama in the story. As we all know from studying the classics of the Greeks and of Shakespeare in school, the essence of drama is conflict. Komarnicki’s script is brilliant in that he found two ways to inject drama into the story.

First is the external drama, in which Sully and Skiles are called before a board of pencil pushing FAA bureaucrats who second guess Sully’s decision to make the water landing. One of them, Charles Porter (Mike O'Malley), questions Sully on his personal life and whether or not he got enough sleep or took any drugs or alcohol prior to the flight. The big question they have, however, is why Sully didn’t return the plane to LaGuardia Airport and why he instead chose to land on the Hudson River.

This leads to the second dramatic element in “Sully”: His doubt. Sully and Skiles both lose sleep over the investigation. Their guts tell them that they made the right decision, but the investigation is making them question themselves. This internal conflict has a place in “Sully” that is just as prominent as the FAA hearings and the suspenseful, very well done recreations of the landing. It’s also very difficult to convey this type of conflict and make it something with which the audience will feel and empathize. Good news for us is that Hanks and Eastwood are skilled professionals who know how to properly get that across, and they succeed splendidly.

If there’s one dig I have at “Sully,” it’s a minor one, and it is that the movie ends abruptly. I think the intention was to leave on a high note, which the movie does, and I am all for getting out of a movie once the plot has wrapped up. However, I don’t think it totally wrapped up. Throughout his stay in New York while waiting for the hearing, Sully speaks with his wife Lorraine (Laura Linney). It’s clear the two are having some financial struggles and she is worried about him. I think one more scene showing Sully arrive back home and giving Lorraine some reassurance that he’s all right would have been a good way to close that loop and still leave the movie on a happy, positive note.

Regardless, the fact that this does not happen is not a deal breaker by any means, and “Sully” is by and large a very well-crafted movie. It’s an exciting, inspirational tale about triumph over extreme adversity in the air, on the water, at a hearing, and within oneself. Buy it on Amazon: Sully (2016) (BD) [Blu-ray].

Also New This Week

The Magnificent Seven

Why? I know a lot of you are asking that question about a remake of the 1960 western classic “The Magnificent Seven,” and I have to say, it’s a good question. In spite of all of the mediocre remakes we have been bombarded with the past few years, I stand by my assertion that I will accept any remake of any movie and judge it on its own terms, separate from the original. The original will always be there if you want to watch it instead, and I am open to fresh perspectives and new takes on older ideas. After all, let us not forget that “The Magnificent Seven” from 1960 is itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 Japanese classic “The Seven Samurai.”

But why remake such a beloved movie? What does this version bring that is new and different? I guess for one that it checks off a lot of different boxes to make the identity politics loving, social justice crowd happy. The leader of the seven is a black man named Chisolm (Denzel Washington), who recruits an Irishman named Faraday (Chris Pratt), a Cajun named Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), a Mexican named Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a Chinaman named Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), a Native American named Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), and finally, a white, overweight, Bible-quoting fur trapper named Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio). The one who approaches Chisolm to put together the team is Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), who seeks retribution and safety for her town of Rose Creek after her husband (Matt Bomer) and some other townsfolk are killed in cold blood by greedy robber baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) and his cohorts. Emma Cullen is the strong female lead that all action movies must have nowadays so as to not get criticized by angry feminists on tumblr, so she checks that box. The racial, ethnic, and gender pandering wouldn’t be so unbearable if a) it wasn’t so blatantly obvious, b) if all of Bogue’s army didn’t consist entirely of scruffy, mean-spirited white men—except for one Native American who does nothing until very briefly at the end, and c) all of the (white) men in the town of Rose Creek weren’t cowardly idiots with piss poor aim. This isn’t a movie—it’s an agenda.

There is also a major tone issue with “The Magnificent Seven.” The movie wants to harken back to the good old days of shootouts and stunts that made classic westerns from the late thirties through the late sixties so great. The problem is that director Antoine Fuqua’s vision for the world of the “The Magnificent Seven” is a brutal, dark, and violent one. Fun horse stunts do not chime well with a man literally getting shot at point blank range into an open coffin. It needs to go one way or the other. That’s the job of the director—to pick a direction.

“The Magnificent Seven” also suffers from overkill—in the literal and figurative sense of the word. A full half an hour of this movie’s two hour and thirteen minute run time is dedicated to the epic battle between the town and Bogue’s Army, and it gets boring. Once again, we have a good lesson in the fact that too much action can be just as bad as too little. It’s a relentless assault on the senses—and the intelligence—as one shot of wholesale slaughter leads to the next. Even worse is that the seven are all such amazing marksmen that they never (and I mean never, ever) miss, while of course, their attackers couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn if they were standing two feet away from it. It would have been much more interesting to have a smaller, OK Corral style shootout where many shots are fired, both sides miss, but one side eventually winds up victorious. Instead we’re treated to a loud, obnoxious, repetitive mess.

Thinking back, it seems that I didn’t ask a complete question. I merely asked, “What does this version bring that is new and different?” Sure enough, the above paragraphs do catalogue things in this version of “The Magnificent Seven” that are new and different from the original. I should have asked, “What does this version bring that is new, different, and GOOD?” The answer to that is nothing—not a darn thing. Which is the reason why even on its own terms, this movie is not worth the time or the money, especially with two superior versions of the same story available to view. Skip it, and instead watch the original “The Magnificent Seven” or, if you have three and a half hours to spare to watch a truly mesmerizing piece of cinematic art, watch the original-original: “The Seven Samurai.”

More New Releases: “31,” Rob Zombie movie that made me feel like I needed a long, hot shower after watching it—and I don’t mean that as a good thing; “Storks,” animated family movie about a stork named Junior (voice of Andy Samberg) who accidentally creates an unauthorized baby girl and must deliver her before she’s discovered; and “Hitchcock/Truffaut,” documentary about the 1962 meeting of the two most innovative filmmakers of the time.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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