Sully is the most feel good movie in recent memory that’s likely to make you feel woefully inadequate the next time you miss the mark parallel parking. After all, it tells the remarkable story of Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks), who became an American hero after completing an improbable water landing on the Hudson River in January 2009.
Clint Eastwood’s latest delves deeper into a story that inspired millions some seven and a half years ago. It also reminds us of that not so distant period when the economy had recently plummeted and the sight of an aircraft off course in New York City was a terrifying sight. While Sully and his trusty co-pilot Jeff (Aaron Eckhart) are confident that their reaction to a bird strike that caused engine failure on takeoff was correct, the NTSB is not so sure.
The film cuts back and forth between the pilots sitting in after the crash (or water landing as Sully insists it be called since no crash occurred) hearings and brief happenings before the most famous three-minute flight ever. There’s some back story showing a young Sully earnings his wings that somehow felt like unnecessary filler in a tight 96 minute runtime. We also see the title character trying to cope with instant fame in the immediate days following (he wonders into a bar one night where there’s already a drink named after him). And we see glimpses into his married life with Laura Linney in a role where her face is constantly connected to her cell phone. Her husband is stuck in NYC until the investigation’s completion.
We see the United Airways flight from multiple angles – that of the air traffic controller, of citizens in the Big Apple, of the Coast Guard. Most thrillingly, we see the cockpit reaction and split second decisions that had to be made to save 155 lives on board. Though we know the outcome, Eastwood and his editor direct these sequences in a way that generates maximum suspense. Speaking of the director, I was able to spot a subtle Eastwood cameo in a scene where Sully runs through Times Square. Hint: his hit Gran Torino happened to be the #1 movie in America when these events happened.
Hanks has long perfected the Everyman Doing Extraordinary Things role – so much so that we probably take his incredible talent for granted. He does it here again and creates another hero filled with doubts and fears. Sully is also a man who barely gets a moment to comprehend his deeds, with the media and government officials trying to monopolize the aftermath of the “Miracle on the Hudson”. To Captain Sully, he was just doing his job in an unreal set of circumstances. So does the team behind the re-telling of it.
*** (out of four)