Released two days before the 15th anniversary of 9/11, Sully begins with a nightmare that has frequently and collectively been imagined by New Yorkers since 2001. A plane is again seen crashing into one of the city’s buildings. In Sully, this fear belongs to the protagonist and it is a very private one. Some aviation disasters do have happy endings, and director Clint Eastwood starts telling his story of Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) with a remarkably understated frankness.
On January 15, 2009, America had just witnessed the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’. After a flock of geese flew into and destroyed both engines of his aircraft, Captain Sully glided the plane onto the Hudson River. Having saved the lives of all 155 individuals on board, the pilot became a hero. All might have ended well, but for Sully, a new ordeal had begun. There was insomnia, doubt and an investigation.
Sully refuses to overtly dramatise either the life of the pilot or the day he saved
A locked cockpit usually ensures that passengers travel without worry. A pilot’s skill and knowhow is often hard for even the most frequent flier to fathom, and safety instructions are often ignored because we inadvertently place our trust in the captain. Tragedies befall other people, we tell ourselves. Sully not just takes us into the cockpit, but also into the mind of a pilot who has 42 years of flying experience. His reputation now depends on the decisions he made during 208 turbulent seconds. Adapted from Sullenberger’s autobiography, Highest Duty, Sully refuses to overtly dramatise either the life of the pilot or the day he saved. Sully won’t glorify himself – he tells a journalist he doesn’t feel like a hero – and Eastwood, for his part, never once eulogises him either.
You root for Sully because Hanks is able to portray his character’s conflicts with disarming finesse
The ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ cost the airline and its insurance company a fair few dollars, and the investigation into his almost unprecedented emergency landing makes Sully and us second guess his actions. Were both engines really destroyed? Could he have steered the aircraft to an airport? Rather than saving lives, did he put everyone at greater risk? A film that explores the very meaning of heroism, Sully, for much of its 96 minutes, does not give its audience clear answers. You root for Sully not because he has been positioned to be faultless, but because Hanks is able to portray his character’s conflicts with disarming finesse. He amplifies what Sully stresses on – the human factor.
Aaron Eckhart as the first officer Jeff Skiles, supports Sully loyally as a character and an actor
Tom Hanks undoubtedly makes a convincing real-life saviour. His performance in Captain Phillips remains memorable, but while in that 2013 film, Barkhad Abdi stole the show a little, the rest of Sully’s cast only help prop up their protagonist. Aaron Eckhart (Thank You for Smoking, The Dark Knight), as the first officer Jeff Skiles, supports Sully loyally as a character and an actor. Only seen when on the phone with Hanks, Laura Linney (Mystic River) plays Sully’s wife Lorrie with a concern that is fraught and vulnerable. The film’s actors or director do not pander to our biopic expectations.
Sully marks a return to an entertainment that doesn’t come with needless frills or forced complexity
Sully marks a return to an entertainment that doesn’t come with needless frills or forced complexity. Eastwood certainly has a penchant for biographies – J Edgar, American Sniper – but Sully is indisputably his most accomplished film in this decade. The film, much like its protagonist, is hard to fault. Sullenberger has the patience to get the job done. The same can be said for Sully.
Rating: 4 stars