Sully Movie Review
Sully Movie Review Metadata
The Merriam-Webster definition of hero is “a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities,” a phrase that can be too-easily assigned to someone who is just doing their job. Although some might call you a hero if you help a stranger across the street, the word should probably be reserved for someone who does something truly extraordinary.
Something like…landing a commercial airliner on New York’s Hudson River, perhaps.
If you’ve forgotten what came to be known as “The Miracle on the Hudson,” on January 15th, 2009, U.S. Airlines Flight 1549 struck a flock of Canada geese less than three minutes after takeoff, resulting in both engines losing power. The pilot, Chesley Sullenberger, determined that they would be unable to return to an airport without crashing and instead managed to land (or “ditch”) the plane in the Hudson River. Thanks to Sullenberger (Sully) and his crew keeping calm, all 155 people on board the plane were successfully rescued by first responders.
In the moments immediately after, the media began real-time reporting. Being that it was only eight years after 9/11 it was easy to assume the worst had happened. When the details came to light, Sully was hailed as a true hero: not only were water landings usually unsuccessful, only five individuals on board sustained serious injuries and there was no loss of life.
This is what we saw on television…the rescue and the days after, interviews with a quiet unassuming man. Now, with the release of Sully (based on Sullenberger’s autobiography Highest Duty) we are able to see the details behind the event and what makes Sully a hero, in every sense of the word.
The film jumps between the day of the landing, the aftermath with the media and the NTSB, and flashbacks showing us how Sully became a pilot. As the public clamored for more information and interviews, we’re reminded that Sully was a real human being with real problems just like us…even his wife is shocked when he tells her that he isn’t being reimbursed for all the interviews, reminding him that “we need you flying”…being a hero doesn’t make your bills go away.
Since we can’t exactly point at the birds as the villains, the NTSB is pushed into that role instead, a bit heavily at times. They try to poke holes in Sully’s story, insisting that he could have actually made it back to an airport, had he tried. Watching Sully struggle with their insistence that all his training, instincts and years of experience were frankly wrong, along with frightening bouts of PTSD, maintain the film’s tension.
The only weakness of Sully are the flashbacks…they serve absolutely no purpose other than to tell us that Sully learned how to fly fairly young (okay) and that he’s really good at flying, especially planes that are in danger. Which we already know since he, you know, landed a plane on the Hudson River. They are pushed into the narrative a bit awkwardly…for one, it took me several minutes before I realized we were in a flashback, and another happens when Sully goes jogging, spots a military plane, and shoves the audience into a memory we can see (and hear) coming from a mile away.
Playing such a revered and real person is not an easy job, but Tom Hanks (A Hologram for the King (2016), Bridge of Spies (2015)) does it beautifully. I sometimes have problems separating Hanks from his characters (or I’m unable to forget that it’s a TOM HANKS MOVIE!!!!!) but in this case Hanks and director Clint Eastwood (American Sniper (2014), Jersey Boys (2014)) executed it flawlessly. Even the quiet moments of wry humor that Sully shows are true to the man himself, reserved and never pushed for the laughs. Aaron Eckhart (Bleed for This (2016), London Has Fallen (2016)) as First Officer Jeff Skiles shines as well, lending a bit of humor here and there, but not at the expense of the gravity of the situation.
Near the end of the movie, Sully and Skiles are shown talking outside of the NTSB hearing. “We did our job,” Sully says, with Skiles’ agreement. And there is the neatest explanation of Sully as a person and of the Miracle on the Hudson. Yes, it was extraordinary and yes, Sully and his crew are heroes. Yet they didn’t see themselves that way, and the film underscores that attitude without taking away any of the magnitude of what they did.