By Vincent Abbatecola
Whenever you watch the news, it’s always uplifting to see a story about the heroism of those who dedicate their lives to protecting us, whether it be a soldier, firefighter, police officer, or any other kind of protective force. However, once in a while, we’ll get a story about someone who was unexpectedly thrown into a situation wherein they didn’t have any idea they would be saving people that day.
This is something that director Clint Eastwood observes in his biographical drama, “Sully,” in which he tells the story of U.S. Airways pilot Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and the “Miracle on the Hudson” that occurred over seven years ago. With a terrific lead performance from Tom Hanks and a respectful recreation of the events of that day, Eastwood offers a film that’s a fitting tribute to this inspirational true story.
On January 15, 2009, Captain Sullenberger (Hanks) and First Officer Jeffery Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) land their plane on the Hudson River shortly after experiencing dual-engine failure a few minutes into the flight, and all 155 people on board survive. While the nation celebrates this averted disaster, the National Transportation Safety Board are convinced Sully could have made it back to the airport unharmed. With Sully facing scrutiny from the NTSB and trying to deal with being the topic of every headline, he tries to convince his naysayers he did what was best for his crew and passengers.
Tom Hanks delivers a dramatic, yet appropriately subdued performance as Sullenberger. Throughout the film, Hanks displays the humbleness of being an everyday hero, while also showing an unwavering sense of calm when the higher-ups disagree with how his character should have handled the situation. He’s someone who’s trying to get some grasp of normalcy back into his life, all while keeping his composure for his family and in front of the media, letting Hanks exhibit a thorough portrayal of what it means to reluctantly be put under a microscope. One of the best things Hanks exemplifies about his character is how much he cares for his passengers, such as asking for a headcount after the landing and inquiring about injured passengers as he’s getting treated in a hospital. The genuine concern he shows for the safety of these individuals lets Hanks bring across his character’s compassion for others, making him the definition of someone who cares about those he serves.
The screenplay by Todd Kormarnicki, which is based on the memoir “Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters” by Sullenberger and the late Jeffrey Zaslow tends to be rather thin on material in the segments that revolve around what happened in the days following the landing. Although it’s engaging to see Sully react to being thrown into the national spotlight, the movie could have benefitted from a slightly deeper look into who he was. We get a couple of flashbacks of his previous experience as a pilot, but with the movie being just over 90 minutes, a bit of extra time with his background would have been interesting to see, as well little bit more focus on Sully’s wife, Lorraine (Laura Linney), who also has to deal with the press.
However, the scenes from the day of the landing offer several angles pertaining to the people who were involved with the event, including moments with the air-traffic control, the crew of a New York ferry, and the NYPD aviation unit. This all provides a view of how everyone came together to help those who survived the ordeal. However, what’s most important is how the film allows you to get to know some of the passengers, often focusing on a couple of groups of them for a bit in order to let you get a glimpse of the lives Sullenberger and Skiles saved.
After more than 40 years of directing movies, Clint Eastwood shows he still has what it takes to tell an emotional story. Even though the movie is meant to be an inspirational narrative, he’s able to keep the film from becoming overly sentimental because he allows the events themselves to do a fine job extracting the sensations of relief and elatedness you automatically feel by watching Sully and Skiles’ heroic landing. And even though you know everyone makes it out of the landing okay, Eastwood is still able to provide a tense portrayal of the events because of those little scenes were we get invested in and feel for the passengers, and this is all blended with his ability to capture the apprehension in the cockpit and cabin of the plane, as well as the bravery of what was seen on the Hudson.
When Eastwood goes to the moments that examine Sully’s character, the quietness and intimateness of these scenes make the movie an interesting study of a person who is quickly thrown into breaking news. As you pair Eastwood’s legacy of directing with the stature of an actor like Hanks, the story excels, even if it has a few narrative shortcomings. And with “Sully,” Eastwood and Hanks show that heroism can come from anywhere.
Final Grade: B+