New Review: Sully (2016)
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Mike O’Malley, Anna Gunn, Ann Cusack, Jamey Sheridan, Jane Gabbert, Molly Hagan
It’s a story everyone should know by now. On January 15, 2009, US Airways pilot Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) and First Officer Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) were forced to land US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River after a flock of birds flew into the plane, causing dual engine loss at 2,800 ft. What happened next can only be described as miraculous, for not only did every single soul (155 total) survive the forced water landing, but there were only a few serious injuries as a result (according to one article, only a few passengers required overnight hospitalization).
The event was touted as “The Miracle on the Hudson,” and resulted in a media frenzy that was quick to label Sully as a hero. What the movie shows us is what happened behind closed doors. Both Sully and Skiles were investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board, who believed that the left engine wasn’t destroyed, but merely idle, and that a safe landing back at LaGuardia or Teterboro Airport in New Jersey was entirely possible. “Not possible,” Sully insists. “I felt it go!”
We’re also shown Sully suffering from symptoms of PTSD. The film opens with a terrifying dream sequence, in which we see what could have happened had Sully attempted to reach one of the airports suggested to him by air traffic control. Sleepless nights are not uncommon, both Sully and Skiles can’t leave their hotel without being swarmed by the media, and there eventually reaches a point (after news that the left engine might have simply been idle) where Sully begins to doubt himself. Did he make the right decision that day, or did he endanger the lives of all those passengers for no reason?
There has been some controversy about how screenwriter Todd Komarnicki (working from the book Highest Duty, written by Sully and Jeffrey Zaslow) and director Clint Eastwood portray the NTSB, and while I’m sure what happens in the movie with the NTSB is accurate, they are portrayed in a pretty one-note manner. They come across as typical movie villains, and because of this, so of the scenes involving the NTSB loses some of their dramatic punch.
What works out better is the terrifying recreation of the crash. It’s shown twice in the movie, with the first time focusing not only on the passengers and air traffic controllers, but also regular citizens who saw the plane go down from their business offices or their cars. The second time we remain with the pilots every step of the way. Through Eastwood’s skilled direction and the seamless special-effects, the movie manages (somehow) to build nail-biting tension from an event of which we already know the outcome.
The tension builds some more during the scenes showing the passengers exiting the aircraft after the forced water landing. Some try to swim to shore, yet because of the freezing temperatures, they don’t get very far. More than once I had to remind myself that no one died that day, because there were a few instances where I was certain that a few of the passengers wouldn’t make it. What’s really special about these scenes is that it shows why everyone managed to survive. It wasn’t just because of Sully and Skiles’ safe landing (although that did play a huge part). Every one of the passengers and crew members managed to keep it together enough to help others, including those who were in the water. The coast guard, Sully, and Skiles managed to bring the passengers to safety and were truly heroes that day, but the passengers played their part as well.
Whether he’s in a great movie (like Captain Philips) or a terrible movie (like The DaVinci Code), one can always count on Tom Hanks to turn in an excellent performance, and Sully is no exception. With 42 years of experience under his belt, Sully understandably grows restless at the thought of being judged (and possibly losing his job) based on his actions during those terrible two-and-a-half minutes he was in the air. Hanks’ performance is sensitive and appropriately low-key, and he’s able to say so much with his face during those moments where he’s haunted by the outcome that could have been, or when he begins to question himself and whether he did the right thing.
Eckhart offers solid support as Skiles, who also suffers from symptoms of PTSD, but never seems to question the decision they made in the air. Laura Linney is effective as Sully’s devoted wife Lorraine, but she’s not very well used here. Every single one of her scenes consists of her talking on the phone with her husband. That’s it; she’s literally made to phone it in. Had the movie given us a flashback of her and Sully back home, or at least the two of them reuniting after the NTSB hearing, it would have made for better usage of this immensely talented actress’ time. Come on, Eastwood. She can do more than talk into a phone. You know she can.
The end credits show the real Sully reuniting with the survivors of US Airways Flight 1549, and it is a very touching way to end the film. The film itself is not only a compelling character study, but also a solid tribute to all those souls who made The Miracle on the Hudson possible, and a testament of hope and what can be accomplished when people come together for the good of others.
Rated PG-13 for frightening images, some peril, and brief strong language
Final Grade: *** (out of ****)