On January 15 2009, flight number 1549 departed from New York. Not long after take-off, there’s an accident that batters the plane’s engines. They were told to return to the airport but Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) decides that they won’t make it to the airport, so he lands on the Hudson River. When all one hundred and fifty-five passengers survive, he still finds himself under investigation by the NTSB, whose enquiry show that the aircraft could have made it to the airport and one of the engines was still operational. Sully continues to argue that both engines were destroyed and if they went back to the airport, everyone would have died.
Sully is a tale about an “American Hero”, a tale that we’ve all seen told time and time again, but Sully is one of the best renditions of this clichéd form of storytelling. It’s a fine movie and relatively unshowy, other than Sully’s PTSD-induced dreams of “what could have happened” if he had tried to get to the airport. Sully enacts a “forced water landing” on The Hudson on a bitter cold day in January 2009 and not one person died…not one. New York’s finest came out in great numbers to help the survivors. Scenes like that are what humanity should be. Working together for the greater good and that’s one many emotive parts in Clint Eastwood’s ninety-something biography drama.
In essence, it’s a disaster movie. But it’s a high quality disaster movie, if that’s possible. Anyone who has watched a disaster movie, knows they’re 99% high-octane action sequences and 1% story (if that). Sully flying his plane over New York and the outcry afterwards is similar to 9/11. Watching the plane plummet into the Hudson created an aura of hopelessness in the face disaster. Todd Kromarnicki’s screenplay is excellent and it’s not just about “The Crash.” It’s about the social and legal shenanigans that occur around it as well, as we see with good use of flashbacks between past and present.
From the perspective of The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Sully is not a hero. They are a risk to public safety because their computer simulations show that Sully and his first officer, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) could have reached the airport. By landing on the river, they were endangering public safety and the life of their passengers. It’s dramatic irony because as audiences watching this film, we know Sully did the right thing. Not only because he’s Tom Hanks, but because we saw things unfold in the cockpit. Basically, the NTSB are the evil corporation who tell professionals how to do their jobs they have no experience in. The equivalent is Warner Bros getting heavy handed with the creatives on Batman V Superman, thus releasing half a movie and subsequently getting torn to shreds by critics.
Hanks might well just be onto another Oscar nod for his role. He convinces audiences of his character’s proactive and quick-thinking nature as a pilot yet he shows that he is just as human as the rest of us. He has the ability to make mistakes and now coming to the end of his career. Sully gets so showy about his 42 years service, he thinks “what if?” As the board delve deeper, Sully becomes more exposed. He was a blink from death and thinks that he may have made a mistake in the rush.
He’s trapped in New York away from his wife (Laura Linney). They have numerous conversations, in which he shows that he is more than just America’s hero. He’s a man with feelings, motivations and ideologies. Through these talks, we see his emotions and his anxiety, in contrast to the character he plays when dealing with the board. Even with his perceived-okay-attitude, Sully is suffering within his own mind. He’s often in his own little psychological palace, playing with his thoughts. He’s frequently somewhere else, swimming with the fishes or daydreaming. There’s one perturbing scene where he nearly runs into a car in the middle of the street.
Hanks (Bridge Of Spies) and Eckhart (Bleed For This) are at the top of their games, with good direction from Eastwood and a great screenplay from Todd Kromarnicki. This is a great movie and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few Oscar nominations came its way in the acting and screenplay categories.