June 4, 2023
Which Way Is Up? s01e06 — Sully

Tom Hanks stars as Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger in Clint Eastwood’s late masterpiece about the airline pilot that landed a failing plane on the Hudson river and saved the lives of 155 passengers and crew members. Another example of Eastwood’s obsession with the fragile state of American exceptionalism, Sully examines how the real-life pilot is first revered for saving all these souls and then prosecuted for “endangering” them by not heading for Laguardia airport. What constitutes a hero in these post-modern times, Eastwood asks in this biopic, when American integrity is disintegrating before our very eyes? Eastwood is often shoved aside as a reactionary crank — the infamous empty chair video certainly didn’t help — but within that perceived position, he’s actually one of the most astute observers of American decline in the 21st century. 

Evoking all the post 9/11 dread — truly the event horizon of this entire film programme — of contemporary America, Sully is a powerful commentary on how a Baudrillardian hyperreality is enforced by the corporate entities that fuel global capitalism. In a tremendous final act, Sully’s competence as a pilot is challenged in court by various flight simulations that could successfully land the crashing plane in Laguardia. So, Sully is ultimately a film about the clash between parameters and people, about data as a substitute for lived experience. As such, it’s one of the strongest works in Eastwood’s vast oeuvre that interrogates American myth making in real-time. 

Title: Sully | Director: Clint Eastwood | Year: 2016  | Runtime: 96 min

About the programme: Which Way Is Up? is a recurring film series curated by film critic Hugo Emmerzael, offering critiques and reflections on our postmodern, late capitalist hellworld through the lens of digital film — from mainstream blockbusters to experimental cinema.