Sully (2016)

The untold story behind ‘The Miracle on the Hudson’

On an overcast morning, seasoned pilot Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) and co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) begin flying out their Airbus A320 with 155 passengers and crew, the plane en route to North Carolina from LaGuardia Airport, New York. While ascending over the city (just few minutes into the flight), the engines blow out due to a pack of geese suddenly striking the aircraft. Improvising a dangerous landing, Sully manages to successfully splashdown on the Hudson River and, with the help of local emergency services, save all of the lives onboard.

Barely having anytime to breathe, Sully and Skiles are instantly thrust into a never-ending media circus as an investigation led by the ever-critical NTSB team of Charles Porter (Mike O’Malley), Elizabeth Davis (Anna Gunn) and Ben Edwards (Jamey Sheridan) ensues. As questions and more specific details begin to emerge, the focus zones in on the matter of responsibility for the incident — did it belong to human error, technical fault or was it a random, unforeseeable act?

'Oh Aaron, that was intense. I gotta pee man ...'
‘Oh Aaron, that was intense. I gotta pee man …’

Since 2006, director Clint Eastwood has focused a good portion of his attention to exploring humble heroes and patriotism — be it the gentle South African leader Nelson Mandela in Invictus (2009), the modest American soldiers of Flags of our Fathers (2006), or famous Navy S.E.A.L. sniper Chris Kyle in American Sniper (2014). With that said, Eastwood is clearly genuine in his endeavor to celebrate real heroism on screen and survey what drives these individuals.

In Sully — wonderfully realized by the ever-dependable Tom Hanks, Bridge of Spies (2015) — we find an ‘every man’ who really just feels as though he did ‘his job’ to the best of his ability. While the resulting survival of all his travelers and staff is something Sully is sincerely proud of, he is never tempted to boast. Both the titular character and filmmaker Eastwood recognize that this was a combined effort made by ‘New York’s finest’ (in the emergency departments) to deliver all of the wet, stranded and shaken folk back to dry land. In turn, people were reminded of the hope and tenacity of the human spirit in a fearful post 9/11 world.

The script by Todd Komarnicki, Perfect Stranger (2007), is based on the memoir written by the real Sully himself, along with late journalist Jeffrey Zaslow. If there’s one minor stain on the film it’s that its screenplay doesn’t delve too deeply into Sully’s headspace nor does it have much going on in terms of events; the result is neither an incisive character study or an enveloping plot, despite all of Eastwood’s best efforts to flashback to Sully’s growth as a pilot and explain how he could make such a critical decision in the heat of the moment.

Mr. Eckhart awaits some recognition
Mr. Eckhart awaits some recognition

Regardless of this, the directing by Eastwood is as solid as ever, the 86-year-old delivering firm pacing for this simple story whilst milking the suspense out of every opportunity — awareness of the outcome is unlikely to have viewers any less comfortable. Eastwood also manages to celebrate everyday heroes without dipping into overdone sentimentality or rousing audience cheers via his music score, deliberately underplaying the tone, creating a sense of intimacy with Sully and his experiences.

On an unexpected note, the cinematography by long-time Eastwood collaborator Tom Stern, American Sniper (2014), was mostly done on the new Alexa IMAX system, meaning you’ll see 26% more of the film vertically if you hit an IMAX theater. To be honest though, while well shot — Stern’s ever-moody dimness suiting the cloudy setting and his close-ups revealing a whole world of contemplation in Tom Hanks — I can’t say I felt as though I was missing out by seeing the movie on a regular screen. Still, I think it’s commendable that a non-blockbuster has given this camera system a crack — it wasn’t all that long ago that The Master (2012) reminded us of what 70mm film could do for intimate dramas and it looks like large format cinematography is making a steady comeback in a digital form.

On the supporting front, Aaron Eckhart, London Has Fallen (2016), is commendable as Jeff Skiles, though he doesn’t have a great deal to do (seems to be a common theme with Eckhart of late); the same could be said for Laura Linney, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016), playing Sully’s wife Lorraine. On the legal team, things fare a bit better with both Mike O’Malley, Concussion (2015), and Anna Gunn, Red State (2011), successfully hovering somewhere between the grey lawyer area of finding the truth and attempting to settle the blame. But truly, this is the Tom Hanks show.

'Uh yes, I'll accept another Oscar nomination ...'
‘Uh yes, I’ll accept another Oscar nomination …’

In an era where terrorist horrors continually threaten to destroy lives, Sully is an inspiring account of the endearing human spirit to save them. Despite its lean narrative, one has to praise Eastwood for saluting humble people and showing that it’s a simple matter of positive decisive action that separates a hero from an observer and in the case of ‘The Miracle on the Hudson’ … life from death.

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by Steve Ramsie

Sully is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia