SULLY (2016)

September 8, 2016

sully Greetings again from the darkness. Society has a tendency to go to extremes – hero worship for those who probably don’t deserve it and character assassination for those who have the gall to be less than perfect. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger has experienced both. On January 15, 2009, Sully made the decision to land the crippled aircraft of US Airways flight 1549 right into a river … an event immediately labeled “Miracle on the Hudson”.

Surprisingly, this is the first film collaboration for Tom Hanks and director Clint Eastwood. Both have cinematic experience with true life stories and real people: Hanks most recently in Captain Phillips and Bridge of Spies; and Clint with American Sniper and J. Edgar. This one is the perfect fit as Hanks takes on a good man who takes pride in doing his job, and Clint brings to life a story that showcases the best of human nature.

Tom Komanicki adapted the screenplay from the book “Highest Duty”, co-written by Sully and Jeffrey Zaslow. Much of the attention is given to the doubts and uncertainty Sully experienced during the NTSB review. The scrutiny of his work by the committee (played here by the ultra-serious Mike O’Malley, Anna Gunn, Jamey Sheridan) left his career and reputation dangling, inspiring nightmares that are much worse than yours and mine.

Certainly we are in awe of what Sully pulled off that morning, but as movie goers, we are anxious to see the plane crash/splash/landing. Clint comes through in breath-taking fashion. While it lacks the hysterics and drama of the upside-down plane in Flight, this re-creation is so realistic that we nearly obey the flight attendants repeated instructions of “Heads down. Stay down”. Even the cockpit chatter, passenger evacuation, and first responder’s (many of whom are real life folks, not actors) activities are played in matter-of-fact manner … more people just doing their job. We shiver knowing the icy Hudson River water is 36 degrees, and we feel Sully’s anxiety as he desperately tries to get a final count … a count that he prays will hit 155.

Aaron Eckhart plays co-pilot Jeff Skiles and has a couple of memorable scenes, and Laura Linney embraces the thankless role of telephone wife of Sully during the aftermath and hearings. We get a glimpse of Sully’s background with flashbacks to his flight lessons at a Denison Texas private airfield, as well as a portion of his military service. Hanks is the perfect choice for a role that would have suited James Stewart just fine were it the 1940’s.

The conflict here comes from the NTSB inquiry. Backed by computer simulators that show the plane could have coasted back to LaGuardia, we get the distinct feeling that the committee’s goal is finding human error – naming a scapegoat (other than Canadian geese) for their “lost” plane. It’s Sully who reminds us that the committee is simply doing their job … just as he was, Skiles was, the Flight Attendants were, and the first responders were.

This is technically expert filmmaking. We know the ending, but are glued to the screen. Frequent Eastwood collaborator Tom Stern handles the cinematography, and like the acting and story-telling, the camera work avoids any excess or over-dramatization. The film provides one of the best examples ever of the duality of hero worship and intense scrutiny, and how a person can be a hero by simply doing their job. The closing credits show clips of the flight’s reunion and every survivor would agree that the best among us allowed a continuation of life … something that could have gone to the other extreme.

watch the trailer:

 


EQUITY (2016)

August 11, 2016

equity Greetings again from the darkness. A film made by women in a male-dominated profession about women in a (different) male-dominated profession becomes the first female-centric Wall Street movie. Director Meera Menon (Farah Goes Bang) and writers Amy Fox, Sarah Megan Thomas and Alysia Reiner have a lot to say … maybe even more than they intended.

Anna Gunn (“Breaking Bad”) delivers a strong lead performance as Naomi Bishop, a hard-driving and successful investment banker – a self-described “banker chick”. She’s coming off a failed client IPO – her biggest career failure. Naomi basically torments and disrespects her first assistant Erin (Sarah Megan Thomas), and she regularly sleeps with a co-worker and hedge fund manager Michael Connor (James Purefoy) for the benefits only. In other words, Naomi is much like the men we have seen in these roles over the years.

While pursuing her next IPO with a hotshot d-bag tech entrepreneur (Samuel Roukin as Ed) who claims to have a revolutionary impenetrable cyberware, Naomi is unwittingly (although it could be argued that she SHOULD have known) being played by multiple parties. One of these is a Justice Department investigator (Alysia Reiner as Samantha) who is trying to use their old college connection as a way to gather intel on Naomi’s firm and Michael Connor. Adding complexity and turmoil are Craig Bierko as an egotistical investor who pressures Michael for insider info, Sophie von Hasselberg (Marin) who is a disgruntled programmer for Ed’s company, and Tracie Thoms as Samantha’s partner and co-parent of their kids.

Fractured relationships abound as all characters are driven by something other than the relationships. We are told “money is not a dirty word”, but it sure seems like motivation for these folks is centered on power, ambition, and yes … money. The social issues and moral dilemmas come across as less important than the challenge of competing (rather than collaborating). Seamless backstabbing is a valued skill in this world, and always present are greed, desperation and paranoia. This is post-2008 Wall Street, but it looks pretty darned familiar.

Previous films have taken us inside this world. Wall Street (1987), Margin Call (2011), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), and The Big Short (2015) each provided some lesson on this corrupt-to-the-core industry and helped us understand the dual meaning of the title, but this is the first to show us the women who fight the same fights. If there is a disappointment here, it’s the apparent conclusion that putting women in the same high-stakes game as men means they will compete in much the same way, rather than finding a better, more graceful way. Gordon Gekko may not have been right when he said “greed is good”, but it seems pretty clear that greed is prevalent. It’s a lesson we evidently must be reminded of on a regular basis … and whatever you do, make sure to count the chocolate chips before giving that cookie to Naomi!

 watch the trailer: