Brace for impact! 86-year-old Director Clint Eastwood has recreated “The Miracle on the Hudson!” We all recall how Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger skillfully glided his disabled Airbus A320 onto the frigid Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 aboard!
Tom Hanks (“Apollo 13”) once again shows he has the right stuff as the dutiful professional who faced his one moment in time. The entire event took only minutes and the evacuation and rescue operation less than a half an hour. Sully was declared a hero and every passenger and crew member went on to tell a tale they will never forget.
As everyone knows this story all too well, Eastwood had a problem, “Where’s the antagonist?” He needed a villain in order to make it interesting and add suspense. So he and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki admit they made one up. So, who is a better villain than the U.S. Government? In this case, members of the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) turn a routine investigation into a grand inquisition.
It does make great theater for the NTSB to conduct itself like a Congressional Hearing, aiming to destroy their enemy’s reputation rather than uncovering the truth. However, in Sully’s book (with Jeffrey Zaslow) “Highest Duty,” he does express suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, insomnia and flashbacks.
Fortunately, Eastwood is not Oliver Stone, so he very meticulously recreates every other facet of the incident as accurately as possible. Buckle your seatbelt, as he puts you onto that ill-fated US Airways Flight 1549 on that chilly winter day. We see the entire operation, from the air traffic controller to the first responders who rescued them.
Better yet, we get to climb into the cockpit and explore every possible alternative and potential consequence available from the pilot’s point of view. Should they have turned back to La Guardia Airport where they departed, crossing the skyscrapers of Manhattan Island? If they fall short, it’s another 9/11. Could they have made it to New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport, crossing densely populated neighborhoods?
At the time, passengers didn’t know if the plane would shatter on contact with the water. Even if it didn’t, they could succumb to hypothermia in the 36-degree river. During the subsequent investigation, First Officer Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) is asked, “Mr. Skiles, is there anything you would have done differently?” His response, “Yes, do it in July.”
As the passengers begin their mad dash to exit, the crew efficiently clears the plane. Sully walks its entire length to ensure everyone has safely evacuated. Finally, the audience joins the valiant rescue by dauntless New Yorkers, some of who were hired to recreate the 2009 event. One Ferry captain assures a rescued passenger, “No one dies today.” This all happened when New Yorkers needed some good news. Coincidentally, this movie happens when we all need good entertainment.
This is a portrait of an authentic hero in today’s cynical world cast into an overwhelming life and death encounter. Intelligent, low key and engaging, this is one of the best aviation movies made. In an understated performance, Hanks exudes the gravitas of the proficient, mild-mannered and conflicted captain.
“Sully” is 95 minutes, which is the shortest of Eastwood’s 35 films directed. It is rated PG-13 for peril and brief strong language. This is so much more than the typical biopic or “disaster” movie. To those who have flown millions of miles, pilots are heroes every single flight. However, it is especially emotional and moving to witness this epic.
NTSB villains artificially goose the melodramatics, but PBS would ditch that tactic in the Hudson. Nevertheless, Eastwood keeps his audience hanging on every scene, even when we all know the ending. However, we feel more grounded with a refreshingly modest Captain Sullenberger in a world of arrogant braggarts. You may now return your seat and tray table to their upright positions.
Ron’s Rating: B+ Leigh’s Rating: B+