Even Clint Eastwood can’t ruin the real-life story of heroic pilot Sully

SULLY (Clint Eastwood). 96 minutes. Opens Friday (September 9). See listing. Rating: NNN

I approach every Clint Eastwood movie with apprehension, and not just because I’m part of what the outspoken 86-year-old Republican calls the “pussy generation.”

Eastwood is the shotgun filmmaker renowned for giving his cast no direction and only one or two takes to hit whatever note he deems usable. And his standards for usable are pretty low-altitude. He’s so beyond trying that he didn’t even bother finding a more discreet camera angle to disguise the prop rubber baby used in American Sniper.

Thing is, neither Eastwood’s controversial politics nor his worst storytelling instincts could really mess up Sully, a look at 2009’s “Miracle on the Hudson.” That astonishing moment when Captain Chesley Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) steer their sputtering US Airways jet away from Manhattan and glide safely onto the Hudson River, preserving the lives of all 155 passengers and crew, will pierce the heart of the most hardened cynic.

It’s a feel-good narrative about planes and New York City that we want to cling to, and Eastwood takes those 208 seconds seriously. The director who didn’t mind using a rubber baby had an actual A320 jet shipped out to the shoot in California to make the interior scenes as authentic as possible. And he shot the whole film with IMAX cameras so that when the pivotal moment arrives, it’s intense, uplifting and pretty glorious.

The movie built around it is typical Eastwood. It kicks off in the aftermath of the heroic landing, when the National Transportation Safety Board begin their investigation into the “forced water landing.” Bureaucratic pencil-pushers who are no doubt part of the “pussy generation” question whether the pilot could have landed safely at LaGuardia instead of drowning some expensive inventory.

As Sullenberger, Hanks is the only actor who can get away with Eastwood’s run-and-gun style, oozing grace and composure under duress. The supporting cast has to live with the mawkish material that ends up onscreen. They’re really just there to give Hanks his mic-drop moment.

While it’s told with very little conviction, the boardroom drama isn’t a bad way to tease the moment of truth. It lets Eastwood air his frustrations with administrations who over-think the finer points while missing the bigger picture. Then he moves on to the “miracle,” admiring the united efforts of the pilots, airline crew and rescue teams who descend on the downed aircraft and save lives just by doing their jobs.

Eastwood’s a softie for that stuff. At least this time, our sentiments align.

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