Friday, September 9, 2016


Opening this weekend: 

SullyThe famous belly-flop into the Hudson River by U.S. Airways Flight 1549, back in January of 2009, stands out where many plane crashes run together in memory. One reason for this, no doubt, is that everyone aboard survived. Another is that it wasn’t really a plane crash—it was a water landing, as this movie’s title character, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, defensively points out when the NTSB investigators describe the incident using the C-word.

I was unaware that there was any controversy about Sullenberger’s conduct during the brief flight, interrupted by a collision with a flock of geese. But according to this dramatization, directed by Clint Eastwood, the title character’s decision to ditch in the river rather than attempt to return to LaGuardia was sharply questioned by the NTSB.

Sullenberger was hailed in the media as a feel-good hero for his calm during the crisis, but as Tom Hanks plays Sully—it’s been pointed out online that, after Apollo 13, Castaway, Captain Phillips and this film, it may be inadvisable to travel with Hanks—he wasn’t so calm in the days that followed. He was badly shaken, couldn’t sleep, and soon began questioning his own judgment, although his second officer (Aaron Eckhart) had no doubt he’d saved their lives.

A quiet, reserved man, Sully was further rattled by his new role as a media star. Here, as in the final scenes of Captain Phillips, Hanks seems to be reproaching the very idea of the movie action hero, riding out a terrifying experience with no aftereffects.

Todd Komarnicki’s script seems a bit haphazardly structured at first, but it hinges on gradually expanding flashbacks of the incident, giving us a greater sense each time of the shrinking set of options available to the pilots. Eastwood’s style, as usual, isn’t flashy—it’s simple, unpretentious, even a little prosaic, which means it’s just right for the world of conference rooms and airport hotels in which much of the story unfolds. Contrasted with the fine underplaying of Hanks, this visual and atmospheric banality makes the movie startlingly absorbing and emotional.

The Wild LifeThis animated kidflick depicts another abortive journey. It’s yet another movie adaptation of Robinson Crusoe, maybe the oddest yet. No Friday this time; the story is seen from the point of view of the animals on Crusoe’s island, who decide to help him build a comfortable castaway lifestyle.

Since they’re a motley bunch representing various continents—a macaw, a Malaysian tapir, a chameleon, a pangolin, a goat and a kingfisher!—presumably we’re meant to understand that they’re castaways as well, organized into a loose family. The villains here are a pack of bedraggled, matted feral cats.

A Belgian-French co-production dubbed into English without name players, The Wild Life is visually striking, and you almost have to respect its hard-nosed old-school storytelling—an animal dies heroically in the course of the story, for instance. But somehow the movie just doesn’t work. Dafoe’s book is a fascinating, culturally troubling myth, and somehow trying to bend it into anthropomorphic cuteness feels forced and unconvincing.

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