Sully; The Magnificent Seven…and Dan Duryea (!)

Sully; The Magnificent Seven…and Dan Duryea (!) by Mike Peros

After watching Tom Hanks in Clint Eastwood’s absorbing and thoroughly satisfying Sully, I immediately thought of the director Howard Hawks and how much he would have enjoyed he film.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Hawks oeuvre, many of his works (Only Angels Have Wings, Rio Bravo, El Dorado) address the notion of professionalism.  Characters in these films often ask themselves if they have what it takes—are they good enough to get the job done?  In addition, there is the spirit of cooperation that permeates Hawks’ films; the protagonists of these films endure great challenges which can only be overcome when these professionals submerge any personal differences and work together.

Sully, for those few who may not know, dramatizes not only the remarkable “landing on the Hudson” by veteran pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, but also the immediate aftermath where he and his co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles (an excellent Aaron Eckhart) had to defend their actions (which, by the way, resulted in saving all those on board Flight 1549) before the National Transportation Safety Board.  Specifically the board of inquiry (with the aid of computer simulations) asserted that the plane could have reached a neighboring airport such as LaGuardia or Teterboro; moreover one of the engines was allegedly still in working order, belying Sully’s claims that both engines were disabled. 

The film masterfully recreates, in flashbacks at various intervals, the Hudson River “landing” to show the shifting viewpoints; we not only see the actions of the pilot and the flight crew, but also of those on land and sea who helped rescue the passengers from the frigid Hudson (it was after all, January).  That all were rescued, as the film (as well as Hanks’ Sully) points out, was not only due to pilots Sully and Skiles, but also the efforts of the flight crew, the Coast Guard, NYC Fire and Police Departments, as well as passenger vessels such as the Circle Line.   The subsequent board sessions are well-played and fairly tense, even though they occasionally present the NTSB as a body closely resembling the Spanish Inquisition.

Hanks’ Sully is a hero who doesn’t feel like a hero; the press and public lionize him for his achievement but he is riddled with doubts; Sully wonders whether he did the right thing or if he himself is the cause for the plane going down in the first place.  Hanks does an exceptional job of portraying the reserved, seemingly stoic Sully; he suggests Sully’s inner turmoil and exhibits the quiet heroism and decisiveness that transformed a reluctant Sully into a national hero. Eastwood’s Sully makes the viewers feel as if they accompanied Sully through the wringer, so that in the last scene before the closing credits, we are relieved when Sully finally gets a chance to smile.  He deserves it.

The most stirring moments in the reboot of The Magnificent Seven come at the start of the closing credits, as Elmer Bernstein’s iconic theme from the 1960 version plays under images of the new “Seven;” the rest of Antoine Fuqua’s remake is serviceable—but no more. The earlier American version (the original is really Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai) had Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, and a number of rising stars (Charles Bronson, James Coburn, etc) defending a downtrodden town from Mexican bandit chief Eli Wallach (entertainingly chewing the scenery).  Here, it’s Denzel Washington’s duly appointed peace officer recruiting a disparate group of gunslingers (as well as those with specialized talents) to do battle against evil land baron Peter Sarsgaard (more than a little ham-fisted, but to little effect). This “Seven” is fairly diverse, with a Comanche warrior and a wanted Mexican outlaw among its members, but Denzel Washington’s Sam Chisholm, Chris Pratt’s Farraday, and Ethan Hawkes’ sharpshooting Goddnight Robicheaux (who steals the proceedings) receive the lion’s share of the footage.  The problem is there’s not much that they’re given to do; the plot has them assemble, then train the town to do battle against Saarsgard’s Bogue (and his veritable army)—with nary an unexpected development along the way.

To be fair, the climax is a well-staged thirty-minute action sequence where the “Seven” show their magnificence in the face of insurmountable odds (including one particularly destructive Gatling gun).  However the film feels like it’s just going through its paces; there are elements of the classic American Western, the Spaghetti West of Sergio Leone, but certain potentially intriguing aspects are underdeveloped, including Haley Bennett’s heroine who hires the Seven, and the backstories of (most of) the Seven.  The script is also generally devoid of humor and wit; there is nothing nearly as memorable as Eli Wallach’s incredulous, dying bandit in the 1960 version asking, “You came back…why?” or as moving as Bronson’s farewell to the children.  If you want action and (and plenty of it), The Magnificent Seven has it, but don’t look for much else.

Mike Peros
Published by University Press of Mississippi

If you’re familiar with film noir, Westerns, classic television–or just want to know about an iconic film star, you will want to purchase DAN DURYEA – HEEL WITH A HEART,the new biography from Mike Peros, Noho’s film reviewer.  DAN DURYEA – HEEL WITH A HEART, published by the University Press of Mississippi, is the first comprehensive biography of Dan Duryea, a film star who was loved by the public for his onscreen villainy in such classics as The Little Foxes (his debut, opposite Bette Davis), The Woman in the Window, Scarlet Street, Criss Cross, and Winchester ’73.  Female moviegoers adored Duryea, especially when his characters were seen menacing and slapping women.  Yet off the screen, Duryea was known as one of the nicest guys around, a family man (his marriage to wife Helen lasted thirty-five years) who enjoyed gardening and sailboating.  Whenever Duryea would try to extend his range by playing more conventional, even heroic roles, the public said “No sale.”  Yet Duryea did manage to extend his range on television, as he was one of the first film actors to realize the potential of the new medium. DAN DURYEA – HEEL WITH A HEART is a labor of love for Mike Peros; the most recent issue of Film Comment calls the book “an awfully handy piece of work.” It is due to be released on October 1, and is available from both University Press of Mississippi and