Top 100 American Movie Quotes of the 21st Century: #95

The actor:Tom Hanks
The character:Chesley Sullenberger
The film:Sully
The quote:“Birds.”

In The Graduate, Walter Brooke goes up to Dustin Hoffman at a party and gives him a little advice about what field to get into. “Plastics,” he says. It’s ranked forty-second on AFI’s list, one spot above “We’ll always have Paris.” In that one-word quote, Mr. Maguire passes on the totality of his worldly wisdom to this young man who has neither will nor wherewithal to actually act on that dubious advice. Plastics. The epitome of manufacturing, cheap, impermanent in every way that counts except for its ability to decompose, in which case it has everlasting life. Nothing could be more indicative, to an idealistic youngster, of the tainted social values of a generation too comfortable and corrupt to ever be emulated. It’s also funny, which is as much the point as the social critique. Maguire’s approach to Benjamin is just so confident, and so confident in its wrongness. He predates the existence of Buzz Lightyear by some decades, but the way he gets close to Benjamin and just says something that dumb to him is in the same category of “delicious hot schmos.”

Fast forward to 2016, at which point Clint Eastwood (“never heard of him” “oh, he was in Lafayette Escadrille for a sec” “never saw it”) made Sully. Adam Nayman looked at Richard Jewell and felt it was of a piece with American Sniper, Sully, and The 15:17 to Paris, stories of recent heroism which is questioned or questionable. I would go a step further and say that it’s got way more to do with basically everything that Eastwood has made since winning his second Best Director for Million Dollar Baby. There are three exceptions to this rule in Hereafter, Gran Torino, and Cry Macho, but the other eleven movies he’s made since then have all had to do with real-life people dealing with historical problems, and the majority of them have been about Americans. Less popular and less obviously horrifying than American Sniper, Sully is a more fun movie, one in which Eastwood’s color palette, as ashy and wiped out as the skin of a ninety-year-old dude, makes a lot of sense. An overcast day above New York City, the dim lights of federal offices. Just as “Plastics” says something about the huckster midlife crisis in the 1960s, “Birds” takes on this grander symbolic meaning within Sully. (This is to say nothing of just how often we hear someone say “Birds” in this casual, businesslike tone in Sully, turning an observation into a koan that also gets funnier every time you hear it.) “Birds” is the symbolic phrase which portends a great change, a statement of anxiety about what’s about to come. More importantly, it’s the trigger word for problem solving, for the ability to clear one’s mind, focus on the task ahead, and execute at the highest level with the highest stakes. Sully Sullenberger was in his teens when The Graduate was released; it is impossible to imagine Mr. Maguire, who took the easy way out, driving a car through a skid without scattering himself on the asphalt.

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