Sully’ has trouble expanding on a decisive act of heroism

Aaron Eckhart, left and Tom Hanks in “Sully.”

Two and a half stars

Sully Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday citywide.

As Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger (reliably played by Tom Hanks) notes in the true-life drama Sully, his entire reputation rests on just 208 seconds, when he managed to successfully land a passenger jet on the Hudson River following dual engine failure, saving the lives of everyone on board. Sully was justifiably hailed as a hero after the incident in 2009, and the movie does nothing to complicate that perception. So stretching those 208 seconds into 96 minutes proves difficult for director Clint Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki (working from Sully’s own memoir), who add in various narrative filler to build a few heart-stopping minutes into a feature-length narrative.

Eastwood stages the crash itself twice, once about a half-hour into the movie and again at the very end, and taken together, those sequences are exciting and visceral (although the slight difference in perspective doesn’t really justify the repetition). The crash and its immediate aftermath, when first responders sprang into action and rescued the passengers and crew from the middle of the river, are depicted clearly and comprehensively, and Eastwood creates a stirring portrait of hard-working professionals doing their jobs.

That amounts to maybe a half-hour total, though, and the trumped-up drama of the hearings that followed (when Sully and his co-pilot, played by Aaron Eckhart, were grilled by bureaucrats about their split-second decisions) takes up far too much screen time and merely amounts to more affirmations of Sully’s heroism. Eastwood and Komarnicki throw in a few useless flashbacks to Sully’s younger days, some hurried subplots about passengers on the flight and periodic cutaways to Sully’s wife back home (played by Laura Linney, who literally phones in her entire performance), but none of it ever measures up to those 208 seconds.

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