Most of us can recall the events of January 15, 2009, when Captain Chesley Sullenberger landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River after a bird strike just shortly after taking off from LaGuardia Airport in New York City. We watched on social media and live TV as the flight crew, Coast Guard, NYPD Aviation Unit, and Hudson tourist ferries rescued 155 people in 24 minutes. It truly was the “Miracle on the Hudson.” Can a movie top watching that event in real time?
Directed by Clint Eastwood, Sully is about the investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) regarding the Hudson River landing and whether or not Captain Sullenberger a.k.a. Sully (Tom Hanks) and First Officer Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) could’ve prevented the “crash.” The interrogation isn’t as exciting as the landing itself, but you can’t really make a 90-minute movie about a plane crash and rescue that happened within about 30 minutes. Plus, there’s no way a fictionalized version of that would be more interesting than the real footage you can find anywhere online.
But this particular story includes details about Sullenberger’s life from his autobiography, Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters, which makes it easier to connect with Sully during the movie’s interrogation scenes because we understand a little more about his aviation background and how he approaches situations.
The way the investigation is filmed is interesting as well. It’s a mix of Sully suffering post-traumatic stress, Sully interacting with his wife Lorraine (Laura Linney) and First Officer Skiles, and, of course, the landing, which we see at least three times from other viewpoints.
I loved the way they gave us the different perspectives of the Hudson River landing because we obviously only saw it from the outside looking in. Sully shows us what the flight attendants and passengers were doing, as well as how the landing affected ferry boat captains, the NYPD, and air traffic controllers. It’s what keeps the movie from being a boring retelling of something we saw live.
Hanks unsurprisingly delivers a fantastic performance as Sully, mimicking the real-life Sullenberger’s calm and measured speech patterns. And Eckhart gets the fun role of light-hearted smartass foil to Hanks’ main character. I do feel bad for Linney, though. Like Sienna Miller’s character in American Sniper (another Eastwood-directed film about an American hero), Linney spends the entire movie talking to Hanks over the phone. It’s totally the “wife by the phone” trope (a point that Linney helped make in an Amy Schumer sketch), but it’s forgivable here since the movie is all about Sully.
There are moments, too, where it seems like Eastwood and writer Todd Komarnicki paint the NTSB out to be mustache-twirling government villains. Which, hey, maybe they were, maybe they weren’t. Regardless, I’m sure we can agree they were just doing their jobs, as was Sully. I bring this up because this is a rookie writer/filmmaker mistake. After all, a drama centered on a real-life story—or one that tries to capture the essence of humanity—is so much better when everyone has understandable motives and no one is made to be an obvious villain (though, if we’re being honest, the villains are clearly the birds that hit the plane).
But considering it’s nice for people to, for once, see a good story about a plane crash, it’s easy to let it slide. Go check this one out.
Listen to my review of Sully on “Pat & JT in the Morning” here (at 38:05).