FILM REVIEW – SULLY. With Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Mike O’Malley, Jamey Sheridan. Written by Todd Komarnicki. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Rated PG-13 for some peril and brief strong language. 95 minutes.
At 86, it’s hard to believe that Clint Eastwood is still directing movies, but what’s even more impressive is he keeps setting new challenges for himself. In his mid-70s, he made two World War II movies back-to-back, one of them in Japanese. Two years ago, he made his first adaptation of a Broadway musical and followed that up with a movie about the war in Iraq. This time out, with SULLY, he has shot the film in the large screen IMAX process.
The story is the true life saga of Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, a veteran pilot for U.S. Airways who did something unprecedented: he landed a jet plane on the Hudson River with 155 people aboard, and they all lived to tell the tale. As Sully (Tom Hanks) tells the panel from the National Transportation Safety Board reviewing the incident, something is unprecedented until it finally happens.
On January 15, 2009, he and co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) took off from LaGuardia Airport in New York. Shortly after takeoff a flock of birds flew right into the path of the plane, damaging both engines. In less than five minutes he decided that they could not reach nearby airports in time and that his only choice was to land in the river, in below freezing weather.
The script by Todd Komarnicki uses the investigation as the narrative hook. As computer simulations demonstrate he could have made it to an airport, Sully finds himself being second-guessed. Nearing the end of his flying career, a finding of negligence would rob him of his pension and destroy his new aviation-related business. In phone conversations with his wife Lorraine (Laura Linney), we learn their financial situation is precarious, this being a moment when the country seemed headed into a second Great Depression.
However, we know how this story turns out. The real drama here is that of an ordinary man thrust into extraordinary circumstances and finding this his skills and lifetime of experience has prepared him to meet the challenge. Once he’s safely on land and already being lauded as a hero, his first concern is that everyone on the plane be accounted for and alive. They are, and that just adds to his heroic image.
However, Sully–in a pitch-perfect performance by Hanks–doesn’t feel like a hero. He’s haunted by nightmares of the landing going wrong. And when strangers hug him, or offer him drinks, or invite him to be on television, he finds it hard to cope. He doesn’t want to be a celebrity. As far as he was concerned, he–and everyone else involved–just did what they were supposed to do. It takes an airline official to point out that it had been quite a while since New Yorkers had news to cheer about, particularly news that involved an airplane. In the shadow of 9/11 and in the midst of worst economic crisis in eighty years, Sully’s professionalism was a needed reminder that there was good in the world.
In telling the story of that fateful flight and the people who rose to the occasion that day, “Sully” provides us a similar message, and one that is most welcome.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.