In the new film “Sully”, two of America’s great film icons, Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood, magnificently collaborate to create an amazingly gripping and emotionally moving story that recounts the real life events behind the famous 2009 “Miracle On The Hudson”.
On a frigid mid-January morning of that year, U.S. Airways Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, along with 155 passengers and crew, took off on what should have been a routine flight. However, when both engines died only minutes after takeoff, Sullenberger relied on his decades of experience to miraculously execute an unprecedented water landing on the Hudson River without a single loss of life.
“Sully” is a wonderfully crafted exercise in skillful, understated film direction and acting by both Hanks and director Eastwood that thankfully shies away from the sensational. Indeed, the compelling and visually riveting depiction of the actual engine malfunction and potentially disastrous water landing doesn’t take place until well into the film.
Instead, the focus of the story is on the National Transportation and Safety Board’s later investigation into the wisdom of Sullenberger’s risky decision and how Sullenberger deals with this challenge to his professional judgement; while the entire public and press is lauding him, rightfully so, as a hero.
Eastwood’s usual no-frills, straightforward approach to the material again proves he is a master film director. The story neither veers into melodrama nor extraneous and distracting subplots; instead, allowing his cast led by Hanks as Sullenberger and Aaron Eckhart as his loyal co-pilot, to guide the narrative with primary attention given to the professionalism and experience of the key players on that fateful day that saved so many from a devastating end.
Hanks once again proves he is one of America’s premiere actors by turning in an Oscar nomination worthy performance as Sullenberger. Early in the film, we see Hanks’ on-screen character wrestle with temporary bouts of PTSD and chillingly vivid nightmares of what might have happened if his reliance on his gut instincts and experience had ended with more tragically deadly results.
However in “Sully”, Hanks shows us a man quietly and calmly confident in his ultimate life saving decision and skills; yet also, steadfastly reluctant to see his miraculous act of piloting as anything more than simply doing his job; and giving equal credit to his crew and NYC first responders for the amazing survival of all on board the ill fated flight. Hanks portrays Sullenberger as a sincerely heroic man who puts his crew and passengers first; well before any thoughts or concerns about his career come into play.
Unlike many films today, Eastwood’s decision to shoot “Sully” in IMAX format is not a cheap audience money grab. Once the film finally gets around to depicting the events leading to the “forced water landing”, not a crash as Sullenberger pointedly corrects the NTSB initial assessment; the visual impact is spectacular.
Though the film audience knows all will end well with the hindsight of history; Eastwood directs and films the near disaster with a visually visceral impact that puts you inside the plane along with the passengers and crew, as well as with the desperate air traffic controllers on the ground and awestruck skyscraper bound spectators. All of whom are helplessly watching, waiting and nervously wondering what will happen next; and ultimately amazed that such a miracle actually took place.
The film’s climax during the NTSB hearing is another moment where both Eastwood and Hanks shine, with a more than noteworthy assist from Eckhart. The result is the stuff that emulates the best of taut, tense cinematic courtroom proceedings; though in “Sully”, it’s Sullenberger’s career and reputation on the line.
At a no-frills 95 minutes long, “Sully” is yet another superb directing masterwork from Clint Eastwood well worth your attention and anticipated enjoyment. For Tom Hanks, his Capt. Sullenberger is yet another magnificent performance as a principled American “everyman” just doing his best to be good, morally decent and supremely professional.