Twin trails of smoke spew from the engines of a packed passenger plane. Skyscrapers below grow in size as the shore ahead comes closer. The crippled craft banks down toward the frigid water as an announcement from the cockpit comes over the intercom — brace for impact.
The landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson in 2009 has been deemed the “Miracle on the Hudson,” but in “Sully,” directed by Clint Eastwood, this miracle was carried out through the hands of a man, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. Sully (Tom Hanks) is the epitome of the modern American hero. He’s collected and hardworking, brave, and humble in his actions but firm in his convictions. The kind of hero that is, as he says, “just doing my job.” But the film is just as much about how he did his job that day as it is about what followed.
The film begins with a depiction of the landing, but this time it’s no miracle, with the fiery plane banking through the city and into a nearby skyscraper. But it was just a flashback. Indeed, flashbacks like these will continue plague Sully throughout much of the film, creating a strain in Sully that’s expertly displayed by Hanks. In many of the moments in the film like this, we’re shown his emotions more that we’re told. He’s tired, sometimes overwhelmed, and more than anything, not sure what to expect. Everywhere Sully goes he’s greeted by people he doesn’t know but who know him. He’s given hugs, kisses and drinks at the bar for his actions still being broadcast on televisions everywhere he goes. But while he’s being praised on the streets, the National Transportation Safety Board is raising doubts. He was told to return to LaGuardia airport, but instead he chose, alongside his First Officer Jeffrey Skiles (Aaron Eckhart,) to attempt an unprecedented water landing. His landing was impressive, but did it need to be? Could the risks he took have been avoided by just going back? Was it really Sully that endangered all 155 people on board?
Director Clint Eastwood does a great job of depicting the whole crash, from the troubles in the air, to the terrifying “forced water landing,” as Sully insists on calling it, and the rescue from the sinking pieces of plane. The scene is thrilling, but not in a sensationalized way. It’s thrilling in a way that makes you feel like you truly understand what happened on the water that day. There are no people in flailing hysterics, no dramatized arguments among Sully and Skiles and a welcomed absence of hurtling chunks of CGI metal and fire when the plane collides with the water. But it has no lack of excitement, because instead of actors in a film, it feels like you’re watching real, rational people. From the take-off to the quick response from rescue crews, nothing feels out of place or unrealistic, because that’s what Eastwood strives to do — present the events that day as what actually happened.
Eastwood does a great job of stretching the 208-second landing into a full scene, but the excitement and power of the scene don’t expand to the whole 96 minutes of the film. To tell the story with the same kind of realism used in the crash scene, he includes a lot of scenes that are likely drawn from Captain Sullenberger’s real experiences. But not all of life makes very interesting film. Some scenes don’t really seem to lead to anything important. For example, Sully’s relationship with his wife is called into question, but despite multiple scenes of phone conversations and a convincing performance from Laura Linney, this subplot falls flat, failing to remain interesting or relevant. Other scenes, like the repeated shots of the plane hitting skyscrapers followed by a predictable “It was all a dream” moments evoke a bit of deja vu, a sense of “Didn’t I already see this?” To spice things up, Eastwood made the conflict of the film the investigation into the crash, overseen by people that clearly have some unexplained agenda against him. According to Skiles, they too are “just doing their jobs,” but in a film where the events and their legacy have already gone down in history, some kind of problem needs to be invented.
Ultimately, “Sully” is about a hero doing a hero’s job. Captain Sullenberger is the kind of hero that quietly insists on being the last man off the plane after walking its length to make sure everyone is off, and the kind of man who is so good at his mission that he’s positive that he, and those who worked with him, did the very best they could. The film’s realism sometimes works as its strength, but sometimes as its weakness, and the divergence from this in the portrayal of the snakey, hostile NTSB comes off as forced. But while the film itself is no amazing feat, the landing that Captain Sullenberger pulled off is, so if you wish to relive on the big screen what happened that day on the Hudson, “Sully” is a fairly entertaining way to do so.
Matthew Shinkle is a sophomore Psychology major and an Arts and Entertainment writer for Cedars. He likes pizza and those rectangle things with the plastic pins that make an impression of your hand.