By HEATHER TURK
Front Row Features
Walking into a movie directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Tom Hanks, it’s only natural for expectations to be high. Luckily, Warner Bros.’ biographical drama “Sully” doesn’t disappoint.
Based on the untold story behind 2009’s “Miracle on the Hudson,” when US Airways Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Hanks) glided his plane onto the frigid waters of New York’s Hudson River after a flock of Canadian geese flew into both jet engines and caused them to fail, “Sully” shows that while the world was rightfully praising the courageous captain for saving all 155 lives onboard, he was actually being investigated behind the scenes for his heroic actions. While on one hand it seems only natural that some sort of investigation took place for insurance reasons, seeing Sully have to defend his actions to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and being accused of endangering the lives of those onboard by landing the plane on the Hudson instead of at one of two nearby airports is quite absurd. The movie also delves a bit into the psyche of Sully following the event as he deals with not only with his newfound (and unwanted) fame, but also posttraumatic stress disorder.
Hanks, as always, is phenomenal in the film, making Sully an even more sympathetic character due to the actor’s natural likeability. Audiences won’t once waver in their support of Sully’s spur-of-the-moment decision, even when the NTSB claims that computer simulations showed the plane could have made it back to both LaGuardia and Teterboro (N.J.) Airport safely—and that one of the engines might not have been completely disabled.
Aaron Eckhart also shines as Jeff Skiles, the first officer onboard crippled passenger jet, who continuously stands up for Sully’s actions during the investigation. Not only are Eckhart and Hanks perfect together, but Eckhart delivers a few much-needed wisecracks throughout the intense 95-minute film—although Hanks gets credit for a few lighthearted moments, too, like when his character humbly asks if it’s not too much trouble after safely landing the plane on the Hudson and saving everyone’s lives for his uniform to be dry-cleaned.
If there’s one area where “Sully” doesn’t soar quite as high as it could, it would be not giving more of the passengers onboard US Airways Flight 1549 a detailed backstory so viewers cared more about their fate. True, “Sully” is about the man piloting the plane and the investigation that came after the “forced water landing,” but it still would have been nice to know more about a few of the other people onboard, even if it was simply about the flight attendants. Had “Sully” completely overlooked the other 153 people onboard the flight and just focused on Sully and Skiles that would have been okay, but screenwriter Todd Komarnicki (“Perfect Stranger”) instead hurriedly introduces a few of the passengers while they’re at the airport as though their brief introductions would be enough for audiences to develop an emotional connection to them—SPOILER ALERT: they’re not.
It also would have been nice, especially given the film’s brisk running time, to learn more about what happened to Sully after the investigation. How fast did he get back into a cockpit? How long did it take for him to stop having nightmares, if the nightmares stopped at all? Did he ever overcome his financial woes (which are briefly brought up in the film by his wife, played by Laura Linney, but never fully addressed)? Although the movie does feature some footage of the real Captain Sullenberger reuniting with the passengers and crew from the flight during the end credits, the clips don’t address how Sully is doing today. It’s a nice touch, to be sure, but a quick blurb on-screen stating what Sully’s doing now would have been an equally welcome addition.
Nevertheless, a few faults aside, “Sully” truly soars. Even though viewers know what happened that fateful day in January, the movie’s unbelievable true story and eye-popping special effects keep audiences engaged from takeoff to landing. The heart and soul of the film, though, is undoubtedly Hanks and his powerful performance, which is fitting considering the film is, after all, about his character. As it’s often said throughout the movie, without Captain Sullenberger there would have likely never been a Miracle on the Hudson, and it’s hard to imagine “Sully” without Hanks in the titular role.