On January 15th 2009 US Airways Flight 1549 struck a flock of Canadian geese shortly after taking off from LaGuardia Airport. Captain Chesley Sullenberger successfully landed the plane in the middle of the Hudson River. There were 155 people aboard the aircraft. All of them survived.
A passenger plane hangs over the Hudson River, both engines are blown. This is how we are introduced to Captain Sullengerger (Tom Hanks) and Jeffrey Skiles (Aaron Eckhart). It’s these two that we stick with throughout the film as they deal with the aftermath of their ordeal, including dealing with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) who are investigating the incident.
You’d expect this film to play out along similar lines as 2012’s Flight with Denzel Washington and in many ways it does. Sully plays the older pilot whose expertise, training and quick thinking makes him the only man who could possibly pull off such an amazing feat. The difference here is that Sully does not need the added conflict of drug addiction or alcoholism. It a much less grandiose tale and all the more heart wrenching for it.
Usually a disaster films lean heavily on a need for violence, destruction and death so it’s incredible that Clint Eastwood, who directs, is able to conjure up such tension. The actual act of the plane crashing into the Hudson is a rather simple affair, slowly approaching the icy depths before touching down with a bit of a bump. It’s afterward, in the tight confines of the cabin that your heart sticks in your throat as the terrified passengers try to get to safety, the water rising around their ankles. Even this is fairly straightforward, the doors are opened and people emerge from the plane and await rescue albeit in freeing temperatures.
The emotion comes in with Tom Hanks. He plays Sully to within an inch of perfection, the understated, unassuming hero of the piece. When manoeuvring the plane with 155 people on board he is the picture of bravery, while making sure every single one of his passengers gets off the sinking plane he is selfless yet terrified, the quiver in his lip speaking volumes.
The antagonistic force in ‘Sully’ is the aforementioned NTSB and this is where the film falters a little. These government officials seem overly ambitious in trying to prove that Sully and Skiles did something wrong, almost to the point of attacking them. It doesn’t fit with the rest of the film which is so subdued, even with regard to the subject matter. I can’t help but think the filmmakers would have been better off pursuing the conflict of Sully’s PTSD which is touched on but never developed any further than a few passing moments.
‘Sully’ plays off the motifs of planes, disasters and New York. The fact that it takes these elements and forms an everyman’s hero is admirable. It’s such a welcome change to find a film that blossoms under positivity, all of the crew, passengers and rescue teams working together in unity for a film that can surely make anybody proud.