Posted at 8:24 AM, Sep 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-10 17:51:57-04

Phil Villarreal's novel, Zeta Male, is available at Amazon.

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - It's hard to be a hero in a cynical world. Even someone as unassuming as pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger -- who miraculously saved the lives of 155 passengers and crew on US Airways Flight 1549 by landing it in the Hudson River after birds took out both its engines -- was initially looked upon with suspicion and scorn.

Clint Eastwood's earnest, unapologetically sappy film, "Sully," nails the one thing it sets out to accomplish -- to make you feel the metaphorical turbulence and crash landing that the pilot felt in the weeks after the landing.

A media frenzy, a hostile National Transportation Safety Board investigation and the gawking amusement of the public at large. As he always does, Tom Hanks slips into the role with seamless grace. If Hanks has a flaw as an actor, it's the inability to shade characters with a believable dark side, but that works here because Eastwood's presentation is interested in little else than Sully's righteous quest to dispel the haters, meekly state his case that the Hudson dive was the best possible move, and drop the mic amid climactic violin swells.

Could Sully, as algorithm-citing investigators asserted, have steered the plane safely to LaGuardia or Newark? Did Sully cynically cash in on his newfound fame to launch a side business and angle for the sweetest book and movie deals? Did drinking, lack of sleep or domestic issues edge him toward a daredevil stunt? 

To answer any of those questions you'd need to find a different movie, because the way the movie plays it, Sully was a blameless, unassuming genius and anyone who suggested anything different was a sourpuss who just made things harder for him during an already tough time. The combined talents of Eastwood and Hanks at telling an old-fashioned, Capra-esque tale of struggle and triumph are enough to wash away any eyebrow raising. It takes all of Hanks' might to ground a character who would otherwise be as much of a cartoon as Sully from "Monsters Inc."

That said, there is barely enough compelling material here to fill out a 96-minute film. There are too many scenes of Sully's co-pilot (Aaron Eckhart) telling his colleague that he's the best, and too many trembling-voiced loving phone calls between Sully and his girlfriend (Laura Linney). There are piecemeal efforts to reveal the personalities of passengers, flight attendants and first responders, but those all fall flat. We see the thrilling water landing played out several times, but probably could have done with a few more. And harrowing simulations and nightmare sequences in which the plane slams into buildings rather than make it to safety are even more fascinating.

The bottom line is that there isn't much of a story here. A good pair of editing shears could cut this thing down to half an hour and lose nothing that the larger film lacks. Maybe the Blu-ray will offer the world's first director's cut that runs shorter than the theatrical version.

And either the theater or the home is where you will want to see this thing. It sure won't be anyone's choice as an in-flight flick.

RATING: 3 stars out of 4.