When Hollywood needs to cast a captain, Tom Hanks is the guy to call. From his performance as Commander Jim Lovell in “Apollo 13” to his turn as Captain Richard Phillips in “Captain Phillips,” Hanks has developed an expertise at playing leaders under pressure. Now, under the direction of the legendary Clint Eastwood, Hanks has returned to familiar territory in “Sully,” the true story of Captain Chesley Sullenberger’s famous 2009 emergency landing in the Hudson River and its subsequent investigation. Based on Sullenberger’s book “Highest Duty,” the film is a realistic and enlightening depiction of the occurrences of that fateful day, as well as of the long-term effects that such unexpected trauma can have on individuals.
On the afternoon of Jan. 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 took off from LaGuardia Airport in New York on a routine flight to Charlotte, N.C. Just two minutes later, a flock of birds disabled both engines. Quickly determining that the aircraft could not safely return to LaGuardia, Sullenberger guided the plane to land in the river. The entire ordeal lasted only six minutes. Miraculously, all 155 passengers and crew members survived.
Hanks, as expected, does an impressive job of honoring, and at times complicating, the character of Sully. He realistically portrays the self-doubt and anguish that Sully experienced following the incident, particularly during the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation. The board painstakingly reviewed reports and evidence regarding the cause of the engine failure, as well as Sullenberger’s response to the circumstances.
Despite its commitment to the safety of passengers, the NTSB serves as the primary antagonist for most of the film. That said, the accusations it pose produce poignant moments for Hanks’ character and encourage audiences to reflect upon the human tendency to doubt oneself despite exceptional displays of heroism, skill and courage.
As with many of his films, Eastwood’s direction of “Sully” focuses on simplistic storytelling that provokes complex questions and reflections. Despite its rather uncomplicated plot — and the fact that everyone knows how the story ends — Eastwood succeeds in creating an engaging film that explores inner turmoil, self doubt and, ultimately, redemption. Despite the short duration of the flight itself, Eastwood accurately portrays how traumatic events can impact lives far after the incident is seemingly resolved.
Aaron Eckhart (“The Dark Knight,” “Olympus Has Fallen”) impressively portrays the flight’s first officer, Jeffrey Skiles. Together, Eckhart and Hanks promote the positive attributes of the real-life pilots and put a keen focus on their concern for passengers and crew members after the emergency landing. Audiences are sure to be inspired by their steadfast commitment to ensuring travelers’ safety, despite the NTSB’s hostile investigation.
“Sully” does not offer the traditional heroic celebration that can be seen in other films. There is no inspirational music blaring as characters gaze across a horizon, nor is there an emotional reunion or celebration to end the film. Instead, Eastwood, Hanks and the rest of the cast deliver intense, brutal honesty in the portrayal of the flight and its aftermath.
“Sully” somewhat inadvertently highlights just how rare such realism is in films based on actual events. Viewers will be surprised by how effective the presentation of vulnerability and grit are in achieving the film’s goal — not just to show how the media portrayed the dramatic landing, but to elucidate what it did to those involved.
This film shows the strength it takes to act under pressure. In this film Sully faces life-or-death circumstances, as well as the pressure of believing in his own capabilities amid doubts from outside forces. Eastwood highlights the fact that even when heroes emerge from troubling circumstances, narrowly avoided tragedy can still leave its ugly mark.
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