On January 15, 2009, pilot Chelsey “Sully” Sullenbberger landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River. His heroic actions saved the 155 passengers and crew that morning. The
“Hudson Miracle” turned Captain Sully into a household name.
But that’s not the whole story.
In Sully (no it’s not a Monsters Inc. spin-off), Director Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks (as Sully) use Flight 1549’s landing as a springboard to explore what life was like for Sully dealing with the onslaught of media, public attention, and the lengthy investigation that followed.
Like most films that are “based on a true story”, Sully is handicapped with making a story compelling when everyone knows the ending. So, Eastwood and company focus on everything after the incident. Sully and his co pilot Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) face interview after interview followed by an intensive interviews with the safety board officials.
Eastwood’s primary focus is the irony of Sully’s situation: One minute, people all over the world are calling him a hero. He’s getting hugs and kisses from strangers and people thanking him for saving their lives and the lives of their loved ones. The next minute, he’s being told he made a mistake. Investigators are probing into every second of the incident. There’s meeting with people who insist the left engine was operational and he could’ve turned the plane back toward La Guardia. Conversations about his heroism were replaced with ones about distractions and problems at home.
The film does explore some of the trauma associated with surviving an emergency landing. Sully and Skiles have difficulty sleeping and Sully has reoccurring nightmares/daydreams about Flight 1549 making the turn toward La Guardia and crashing into the city.
There may not be a better Tom Hanks role than playing Sully. He’s absolutely perfect. Hanks gives the same stoic, timid character, shaky-voice performance people loved in Captain Phillips and Bridge of Spies. This isn’t a knock on Hanks; his career has turned him into the one guy who can play every American heroes. The other choice is Daniel Day Lewis – he might’ve actually crashed a plane “method acting” for the role of Sully. Hanks is probably somewhere practicing his swimming so he can star in Lap: The Michael Phelps Story.
The score, clouds, and dark lighting are cheap tricks used to reinforce the drama and the seriousness of the situation. There all constant reminders that the film is dealing with a very serious subject matter. The theatrical trailer paints Sully to be a very serious film that provides new revelations. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Sully isn’t really a biopic or a story about the events that morning. It’s a medley of both with a few dramatic moments sandwiched in the middle. For a dramatic film with very little drama, Sully is surprisingly entertaining and engaging. Without Eastwood and Hanks, the film would’ve been a mess. The two Hollywood vets stretch a short story into an enjoyable tale with a few moving moments. The film’s climax doesn’t provide any new information, yet still packs an emotional punch.