Everyone likely only thinks they know the story of the so-called Miracle on the Hudson in 2009, when Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger piloted a U.S. Airways commuter jet with 155 people onboard into a crash landing smack in the middle of the Hudson River just a few minutes after takeoff. No one died. Sullenberger became a hero, appearing on talk shows and even writing a book on which the Todd Komarnicki screenplay for Warner Bros’ Sully is based. But as I say in my video review above, the story is far more complex and compelling, and that is the tale that attracted director-producer Clint Eastwood to take on this project after it had been turned down in several previous attempts.
Deftly telling the story of Sullenberger’s battle with the National Transportation Safety Board, Sully gets to the heart of the conflict between trusting technology in the digital age versus the human factor. Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) is portrayed as a modest, reluctant hero whose personal life is turned upside down when questions arise about how he and his co-pilot (Aaron Eckhart) might have put the lives of passengers at risk by not proceeding to LaGuardia and instead trying a very risky landing in the river. The film is structured around the NTSB hearings, with Sullenberger forced to testify in front of skeptical commissioners. The actual crash and events leading up to it are skillfully woven in through flashbacks as well as in computer simulations during the hearings. The non-linear approach works wonders here.
With a steady hand, Hanks again quietly portrays a simple hero with authority and dignity. As he did in Bridge Of Spies and Captain Phillips, Hanks does not showboat in the least and makes it all look too easy. There is no question he is this generation’s Jimmy Stewart — who similarly knew how to play this kind of American heroism without ever appearing to be acting. Hanks’ work was taken for granted by awards voters on those other two films, but this is a chance to make it up, even if he already has a couple of Oscars on his mantelpiece. The scenes between Sully and his wife (Laura Linney) also are quite touching, even if most of them take place as phone calls. Linney is such a skilled actress that she makes a full-bodied character out of a role that essentially requires her to be believable on one end of a phone conversation. Eckhart is excellent as Sully’s co-pilot and has effortless chemistry with Hanks in their scenes together.
Eastwood, at 86, continues to be a marvel, and this stands as one of the four-time Oscar winner’s best films — in fact, his best since Best Picture winner Million Dollar Baby. He said he was reluctant to take Sully on, thinking everyone already knew this story and there was nowhere new to go, but he is too crafty a filmmaker not to recognize a great tale when he sees one, and he gets to the heart of a fascinating story behind the story that I think will surprise most people. It is an utterly gripping and suspenseful movie, an achievement that is remarkable with real events that had been so publicized. This is filmmaking at its best, and Eastwood — at an age when most people are long retired — is at the top of his game. So is Hanks. Eastwood, by the way, is the first director to shoot a feature entirely in the Imax process, and the results are thrilling. Producers are Frank Marshall, Tim Moore, Allyn Stewart and Eastwood. Warner Bros releases it Friday.
Do you plan to see Sully? Let us know what you think.