Release Date: September 9, 2016
Runtime: 96 minutes
Studio: Warner Bros.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Tom Hanks; Aaron Eckhart; Laura Linney; Mike O’Malley; Anna Gunn; Jamey Sheridan
Hero worship doesn’t get much more blatant, or for that matter, more entertaining than “Sully,” Clint Eastwood’s dramatization of the Miracle on the Hudson from a few years back. Tom Hanks easily inhabits Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s wings in an effectively understated (and remarkably physically realized) performance that ranks among one of the actor’s best.
Unless you’re too young to see this movie, you remember the events surrounding this story. Sully, a US Airways pilot, takes off from LaGuardia Airport in our fair city one cold January morning en route to Charlotte. Not long after takeoff, a flock of birds flies directly into the ascending aircraft, essentially destroying the two engines. With no time to spare and even less time to safely make it back to LaGuardia (or any other nearby airport) safely, Sully makes the fateful executive decision to attempt a water landing right in the Hudson River. As people watch disbelievingly from their office windows in midtown Manhattan, Flight 1549 touches down in the River. Miraculously, all 155 people on board the plane, including at least one infant, survive the landing and Sully is hailed as a hero for his split-second decision that ultimately saved his life and everyone else’s on board his aircraft that morning.
So, it’s a great story, no question. All “Survival Against All Odds” stories are great. What makes this a great movie, however, is Eastwood’s concentration on Sully’s state of mind during the inevitable aftermath and NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) investigation. While everyone (literally) is pronouncing him a modern-day hero, he’s not so sure. Could he have made it to LaGuardia and landed safely? Maybe he could have made it to Teterboro Airport in nearby New Jersey. Eastwood and Hanks reveal the human being behind the hero, a man plagued with self-doubt, with insecurities just like the rest of us. Yes he’s brave and yes he’s a hero, but he’s remarkably, well, ordinary. Using this aspect of the story as a foundation is what makes “Sully” far more (and far greater) than your standard “they all survived” tale.
Working from the source novel “Highest Duty” by Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow, screenwriter Todd Komarnicki keeps the story moving at a steady clip (and at 96 minutes, it’s Eastwood’s shortest feature to date), building to an incredibly satisfying climax – and no it’s not the plane landing in the Hudson. The sequences on the plane are breathtakingly filmed (courtesy of ace cinematography by Tom Stern), placing the viewer on that plane with those passengers and flight crew. Eastwood manages to create an environment of unease and genuine suspense, even though we know the positive outcome of this harrowing ordeal.
The only ding I can give “Sully” is it’s steadfast insistence on portraying Sullenberger as a hero from the get-go. It’s probably unfair to even view this as a demerit since there really is no other way to tell this story properly, but the movie paints Sully as Hero # 1 from the first frame until the last, even if the character doesn’t always see himself that way. That said, however, after a short while you’ll ease right into “Sully” and not even care that you’re essentially being manipulated. The movie’s so good all around, who cares?