“Sully” is the type of hero movie we need. Director Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks grease on the landing of this biopic. It hits all the points of a classic American hero story, with U.S. Airways Capt. Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger saving the day but is later confronted with the “what ifs” of his decision.
Based on the incredible water landing of U.S Airways Flight 1549 into the Hudson River in 2009, Eastwood globs on the hero light. But instead of being overdone, it fills the need in Hollywood for a true hero—one who doesn’t wear tights.
But before I go on, a caveat: I come from an aviation family, one who still works at U.S. Airways—now American Airlines. I see the film through the rosy-colored glasses Eastwood puts on and am rather skeptical of Sully’s portrayal.
Sullenberger was an excellent pilot—now retired from commercial aviation. However, he is perhaps, not so selfless in real life as he is portrayed in the film. Regardless, the cinematic version of Sully is admirable.
Eastwood approaches the story in an unconventional way. Instead of starting with the landing, we are confronted by Sully who is second guessing what he did. Was his decision sound? Did he have no real option other than landing in the Hudson?
For those who don’t recall, Flight 1549 had taken off from LaGuardia in New York City and was headed for Charlotte, N.C. Shortly after take-off, and not yet at cruising altitude, they hit a flock of birds. This damaged both engines. Losing altitude, Sully attempted to return to LaGuardia but was unable to. He made the decisive decision to land in the Hudson—the only clear area that was long enough to accommodate a forced landing of an Airbus A320.
The survival rate of water landings is historically low, but miraculously Sully managed to land the plane safely. Every passenger was rescued with only minor injuries reported. Such a feat had never been done before.
However, Sully and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) end up under investigation by the National Transportation Security Board—as is protocol. As this film is based on true events, Eastwood needed to invent a “bad guy.” The NTSB was his choice.
Painted through Eastwood’s eyes, the federal agency appears conniving, vindictive and determined to prosecute Sully and Skiles. (A fact that is very much fabricated).
As the investigation carries on, we see the events of the landing slowly pieced together throughout the film so that by the end, we see what really happened. Throughout the film, Sully struggles with his choice but sticks to his story. He did everything he could and he stands by that decision. The movie culminates with a hearing with the NTSB, which is again portrayed as the nasty villain. (An unsurprising move as the government is a popular choice for a baddie these days).
In the end, the martyred Sully is vindicated, and his hero-ship firmly tacked on. The pacing of the film and the way the story is told is a testament to Eastwood’s skill as a director. The 86-year-old director still has it.
Hanks is brooding, psychologically challenged, but cool. He fits the mold of the perfect hero captain—a modern day Moses—he leads his “people” through calamity into ultimate glory. He can do no wrong. As unbelievable (and patently untrue) as that is, Eastwood’s “Sully” is a must-see film. I’m more than willing to set aside real life for a historical fiction any day.
– Mesa resident Kaely Monahan is producer of Popcorn Fan Film Reviews.