Back Rowe Reviews
Real Time Movie Reviews from the Back Row of a Theater

September 2016

Sully (PG-13)

Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Tom Hanks
September 2016

The below comments (in Black) were originally tweeted in Real-time from the back row of a movie theater and appear @BackRoweReviews. Though efforts were made to tease rather than ruin this movie’s memorable lines and moments, some spoilers may exist in the following evaluation (in Red). For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. All ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!

The opening scene is intense. #PilotsNightmare
“Forced water landing,” not a crash.
“Everything is unprecedented until it happens for the first time.” Tell him, Sully.
Headline: “Heroism on the Hudson.”
“The right man for the job at the right time.”
Sully hallucinates a plane crashing into a building. #PlaneCrashPTSD
“Porterhouse will stop your heart.” Ha!
Airplane safety instructions...the one time people need to be paying attention.
“Brace, brace, brace. Heads down, stay down.” Words you never want to hear.
“People don’t survive water landings.” Wrong.
“I had to land in the Hudson.” Sully says it like it’s an everyday occurrence.
“I’ve never been so happy to be in New York in my life.” LOL
155. The number Sully was hoping to hear.
“A delay is better than a disaster.” Timely #FortuneCookie message.
“You’ve taken all of the humanity out of the cockpit.” You got ‘em there, Sully.
“Does anyone need to see more simulations?” Yes!
“We did our job.” Yes you did, Sully. And you saved everyone’s life.
“I would have done it in July.” Ha!
Final analysis: a powerful testament to human ingenuity and courage.
3 1/2 out of 4 stars. Peerless acting and directing in this incredible true story of uncommon heroism.

In the hands of less skilled artisans, this film could’ve been a methodical, mediocre mess. By artisans, of course, I’m referring to the dedicated cast and crew of Sully, along with the dream team of director Clint Eastwood and actor Tom Hanks in their first cinematic collaboration. Having helmed Changeling (2008), Invictus (2009), J. Edgar (2011) and Jersey Boys (2014), Eastwood is no stranger to films based on true stories. Whereas his style in the past was marked by a formal stiffness, his direction here is steady and fluid, like a jet cruising at 30,000 feet. It would be unfair to label Eastwood’s earlier directorial efforts as boring, but other, more euphemistic words could certainly be employed, like: conservative, deliberate and restrained. In this film, purposeful pacing has been replaced with a sense of urgency rarely witnessed in an Eastwood picture, a change in style necessitated by the story itself—a pseudo-disaster movie mixed with a docu-drama with a twist of a legal procedural. Much like the subject matter itself, Eastwood’s direction is taut, terse and sufficiently streamlined…the film’s running time is a lean 96 minutes. Amid plane safety checks, aviation emergency procedures, media oversaturation and review board regulations, Eastwood keeps his finger firmly on the pulse and purpose of the film—the 155 lives that were saved by the instinctual, heroic actions of an experienced airplane pilot. It’s to his credit that Eastwood never loses sight of the human factor while regaling the terrifying events from the headline-dominating story from January 15, 2009. This is as complete a film as Eastwood has delivered and, as such, should garner attention from Academy voters, something he’s failed to seize since winning Best Director and Best Picture Oscars for Million Dollar Baby in 2004. Eastwood has always tapped top tier talent for his films and actors don’t come any more highly sought-after than Hanks. As would be expected, there isn’t a single false note in Hanks’ brilliantly multilayered and underplayed portrayal of Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. From his reactions during the actual plane crash (as well as the PTSD fantasy of a plane colliding with a NYC building), to interactions with his screen wife (Laura Linney), co-pilot (Aaron Eckhart), members of the media (including Katie Couric in a choice cameo) as well as the board of inquiry (Mike O’Malley, Jamey Sheridan and Anna Gunn), Hanks is simply masterful here, effortlessly conveying Sully’s dignity and sagacity. One look at Hanks in the captain’s uniform and it’s clear that he was born to play an airplane pilot…and just as with his costume, the role was tailor-made for him. Will this superlative effort generate another Oscar nod for Hanks? Also worthy of Oscar consideration is Eckhart, who plays co-pilot Jeff Skiles. Though it isn’t a colorful, edgy or overly nuanced part, Eckhart perfectly captures Skiles’ unwavering loyalty to Sully in an expertly measured performance. Ultimately what helps this movie achieve liftoff is the harmonic prosody between writer Todd Komarnicki and the editing team. Komarnicki’s screenplay is based on the book Highest Duty, written by Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow. If told in a straightforward manner, this story would’ve never left the tarmac. Komarnicki’s effective use of wistful memories back to Sully’s early days as a pilot (a la 1957’s The Spirit of St. Louis), dream and daydream sequences and non-linear plotting all prevent this film from becoming a prototypical biopic. Likewise, the way Komarnicki breaks up the procedural portion of the film with character sidebars, video simulations and flashbacks is also flawlessly executed. Unlike the balance of the action, which is dominated by weighty life-and-death matters, the film ends on a humorous note—another indication that Eastwood has finally learned how to loosen up in his dotage. All in all, this is a first-rate true story adaptation that soars despite being grounded for most of the film. Be sure to stay through the end credits for clips of the real Sully along with the crew and passengers from US Airways Flight 1549. Tissues required.

Bonus material:
By some strange coincidence, Hanks’ career has been punctuated by plane crashes and water landings: his characters have survived two plane crashes in
Cast Away (2000) and Sully and three water landings including those two films along with Apollo 13 (1995). Additionally, many of Hanks’ films have centered on similar settings and situations, including: a whole other kind of water landing in Saving Private Ryan (1998), the stranded in an airport character study in The Terminal (2004), a boy coping with his dad’s death in the 9/11 plane attacks in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011) and terror on the high seas as a cargo ship is besieged by pirates in Captain Phillips (2013). Incidentally, Hanks played a courageous captain in that true story too.

Hell or High Water (R)

Directed by: David Mackenzie
Starring: Jeff Bridges
August 2016

The below comments (in Black) were originally tweeted in Real-time from the back row of a movie theater and appear @BackRoweReviews. Though efforts were made to tease rather than ruin this movie’s memorable lines and moments, some spoilers may exist in the following evaluation (in Red). For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. All ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!

Hell or High Water
The “no bailout” graffiti is telling. #NoBailout
“All you’re guilty of right now is being stupid.” Ha! #BungledHeist
Bury the car, bury the evidence. Clever.
“Tweakers don’t sleep, they just...tweak.” LOL.
“Ain’t one drill the same as the next?” #ThatsWhatSheSaid
Second car buried. How many vehicles do these guys have?
“Kicking around skulls.” The origins of #Soccer.
“What don’t you want?” This waitress is a hoot.
Large crowd in the Post bank. This can’t end well.
Roadblock. Intense scene.
“Lord of the plains.” #FamousLastWords
Great acting in the final scene with Pine and Bridges.
Final analysis: though the premise is well worn, the acting is superb & the cinematography is gritty real.
3 out of 4. A dusty drama with a strong sense of place and an Oscar worthy performance by Bridges.

As exemplified in silent masterpieces like The Great Train Robbery (1903), heist films have been with us since the inception of cinema. The tone of such films can be elaborate, like in The Italian Job (1969, 2003) and Ocean’s Eleven (1960, 2001), intricate like Mission: Impossible (1996) and Entrapment (1999) or intimate like Thelma & Louise (1991) and Drive (2011). This offshoot of the thriller genre has remained popular throughout the decades and seems to find new scenarios despite its well established conventions. The new bank robbery movie, Hell or High Water, resembles the buddy movie model in Thelma more than the team approach featured in the Ocean’s series. This movie’s pilfering partners happen to be brothers, Toby Howard (Chris Pine) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster). What incites the film’s robbing rampage is twofold: 1. Toby’s pressing need to support his family, and 2. Toby and Tanner’s desire to buy back the family farm from the bank after their mother dies. On the right side of the law is Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), a Southern fried law enforcer who talks like he’s got a perpetual wad of chaw in his mouth and who walks around like he’s got a load in his pants (witness him running toward the motorcade during the movie’s climactic action scene for a prime example of this). Though a bit of a fuddy-duddy (with racist tendencies) Marcus is a shrewd old agent, skilled at anticipating the next move of the perpetrators he’s pursuing, which sets up a rather riveting game of cat-and-mouse with the Howard boys and serves as the backbone for the film’s narrative. Bridges has tapped into some of his recent roles for inspiration for his character here: Marcus is roughly 80% Rooster Cogburn from True Grit (2010) and 20% good ole boy Roy from R.I.P.D. (2013). This is a measured performance that only misses fully realized status due to the screenwriter Taylor Sheridan’s negligence in providing Marcus with a substantial back story. Still, Bridges’ acting is utterly captivating and should garner a serious look from Oscar voters. Pine and Foster are also very effective at bringing their respective roles to life as two brothers on completely different life journeys—Toby turns to a life of crime for the sake of his family, Tanner engages in illegal activities simply for the thrill of it. In the end, each of the brothers gets exactly what he deserves. Also serving as inanimate characters in the film are the authentic looking Texas towns and landscapes (which were actually shot in New Mexico) and the skillful way such stark, yet strangely beautiful, locations are framed by cinematographer Giles Nuttgens. Director David Mackenzie has presented a somber and atmospheric on-the-run adventure that’s enjoyable as much for its acting as for its story and settings. The straightforward storyline is extremely deceptive since it contains a good deal of character subtext and several unexpected turns along the way, especially the ironic coda, which reveals that a greater fortune than the one the Howard’s stole has been right under their noses all along. Ultimately, the film isn’t earth-shattering, but, as a hayseed heist film populated with superb performances and gritty real locales, it certainly isn’t a bad way to spend two hours.