Director: Clint Eastwood
Run Time: 1h 36m
On January 15, 2009 Captain Chesley ‘ Sully’ Sullengerger saved the lives of 155 people aboard US Airways Flight 1549. I think people forget how miraculous the historic event actually was, so Mr. Eastwood and Mr. Hanks are here to remind you.
Sully is a nonlinear retelling of the events of the Miracle on the Hudson and the days that followed. We all know the part where a flock of geese disabled both engines of Captain Sully’s (Tom Hanks) aircraft, and we all know that he and co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) brought all 155 souls safely home when Sully maneuvered a risky water landing on the Hudson River. It’s the scenes that come in between that you may not be familiar with. The investigation and emotional stress put on Sully and Skiles following the 15th of January. The NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) and their number-crunching, pencil-pushing engineers have decided Sully endangered his passengers and made the wrong decision, regardless of the outcome. Sully has to deal with his overnight fame in the eyes of the public, as well as the criticism from those who have the power to ruin him forever.
Let me start by reminding you that Hollywood is telling this story. I don’t believe the flight footage was exaggerated, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the investigation was. The NTSB has stated their disappointment with their portrayal in the film and I can’t find much to support their heartless demeanor that we see in Sully. The film needed a villain and the NTSB was the easiest choice. Just something to keep in mind.
As for the film itself, the acting is impeccable. Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart are seasoned actors who have delivered time and time again heartfelt performances. Their characters are real men, yes. But this is still a film and they have a duty to bring life to their roles so we participate in the emotion rather than simply observe it. There’s no denying that Sully is a hero. While water landings are not impossible, they usually don’t end as well as it did that day on the Hudson. With no loss of life and minor injuries, it is the most one could hope for. But even with the success of the landing, it doesn’t lessen the impact of realizing you — and 154 others — could have died that day. Hanks has a knack for acting with his eyes and can say a lot with just a look. For someone as conflicted and tense as a hero suffering PTSD, he does an amazing job. And Eckhart was his perfect counterpart.
I’d like to take a moment to once again thank the men and women of the various emergency response teams who came to the aide of the survivors. Eastwood reminds us of Sully’s heroism, but does not overlook the heroism of the rescue team. The Coast Guard, FDNY, NYPD, and ferryboats in the area were dispatched to pull the 155 souls from the water and life rafts to ensure that everyone lived. The waters of the Hudson are freezing in January and to spend more than a few minutes in them could have been deadly. Eastwood even cast one of the real ferryboat captains from that day, Vincent Lombardi, as a ferryboat captain in his movie.
At 96 minutes, this is Eastwood’s shortest film but it works. I really liked the jumping back and forth between the 15th and the investigation. As questions are asked, we revisit the event and are reminded of how things played out. I think if we started with the crash and jumped “one week later” it would be a very different movie and a lot weaker on making the impact Eastwood was looking for by the time we arrive at the climax: the verdict. He made the right decision.
If you followed the story in 2009, or just enjoy a good American Hero story, you’ll thoroughly enjoy Sully. It’s a moving and emotional experience.
Robert Zemeckis directed Denzel Washington in a film about a fictionalized pilot who made a risky maneuver to save his passengers, and the investigation that followed. Flight was released in 2012, but Captain Whip is no Captain Sully.