In early 2009, it was impossible to turn on a TV without hearing about US Airways Flight 1549. Even several years later, the image of an aircraft in the Hudson River is still burned into our minds. At the center of this media frenzy was Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the man who successfully landed the Airbus A320 and saved 155 lives. Sully is undeniably a fascinating figure with an extraordinary story to tell. However, it’s also a fairly straightforward story to an extent.
Going into Clint Eastwood’s Sully, one might assume that there’s not enough material to fill an hour and a half long movie. Especially considering all the news coverage this story attracted, there really shouldn’t be much left to say. Thanks to Eastwood’s striking direction and Todd Komarnicki’s compelling screenplay, though, Sully delivers a lot more than anticipated. What makes the film so interesting is that it doesn’t just tackle the flight from Sully’s point of view. We see things from the perspectives of the passengers aboard, the press, the adoring public, and the simulators that could potentially prove Sully pulled a Homer.
Tom Hanks is perfectly cast as the titular pilot, portraying a humble man who works well under pressure. The movie begins at the height of Sully’s fame, as the whole world praises him as a hero. Despite being thrust into the limelight, Sully merely views himself as an ordinary man that did his job. As investigators dig deeper into the emergency water landing, though, they find evidence that suggests Sully could’ve safely returned the plane to LaGuardia Airport. The idea that he might’ve endangered so many lives eats away at Sully, who fears that his reputation could be destroyed. Even as Sully starts to doubt himself, he receives unyielding support from his wife Lorraine (Laura Linney) and First Officer Jeff Skiles (Aaraon Eckhart).
Tom Hanks is perfectly cast as the titular pilot, portraying a humble man who works well under pressure.
Over the course of the film, we see the same plane landing play out multiple times. You’d think this would get old after awhile. Through first-rate editing, cinematography, and visual effects, however, each landing provides a unique experience. Eastwood crafts some of the most impressive on-screen crashes since 2012’s Flight. Speaking of which, Sully may look like a retread of Robert Zemeckis’ film on the surface. While there are parallels, these two pictures are actually incredibly different. Sully isn’t necessarily a deep, complex character study, but it is a passionate, expertly made tribute to an everyday hero.
Sully isn’t necessarily a deep, complex character study, but it is a passionate, expertly made tribute to an everyday hero.
At only 96 minutes, Sully can admittedly feel just a little drawn out at times. There are a couple flashbacks to Sully’s early days as a pilot that aren’t particularly necessary. On the whole, though, the film stays focused, giving us all the information we need. Even if you know everything that’s going to happen, Sully still manages to be gripping, inspiring, and occasionally surprising. It ultimately captures Chesley Sullenberger’s spirit without turning him into a saint, coming in for a smooth landing.