Sully – You Think You Know the Story
Aviation movies are usually restricted in plot. There’s only so much dramatic content that can fit into an airframe, even a jumbo jet airframe. The typical treatment in an aviation movie combines action on the plane with numerous flashbacks to supplement both character and plot development. Within this limitation of the genre, Clint Eastwood has done a masterful job of putting together a great story. Sully is based on Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s 2009 landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River in what came to be called “the miracle on the Hudson.” This film is, more than anything, a brilliant directorial achievement. Eastwood engages us through the entire film, even though we all knew the ending before we entered the theater. He accomplishes this through the management of flashbacks, both their timing and focus. The flashbacks provide us with aspects of the story we neglected to focus on when the real event was taking place. At different times we are with the ferry boat personnel, air traffic controllers, NYPD scuba cops, witnesses in offices, first responders, etc.; all in pursuit of providing a complex, multidimensional view of an event that we all saw a lot more simplistically.
But, you need tension when you are telling a heroic tale. The real story did not create enough tension, by virtue of a well-known happy ending (all passengers and crew were saved). So, Eastwood built it in with a bit of fabrication. The portrayed story, with all of its flashbacks, is woven around an NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) investigation and hearing to determine if Sully really needed to land the plane on the Hudson or had, in fact, ruled out much safer options. The tension was based on the audience not knowing whether Sully was going to be confirmed a hero by the NTSB, or deemed a person with poor judgement who had just gotten lucky. Such a hearing never occurred. Eastwood threw the NTSB under the bus for some enhanced story building. It worked well. Now to the performances. Tom Hanks did a fantastic job as Sullenberger. He seems to excel with characters that have richer internal than external dialogues (see Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, Saving Private Ryan, Cast Away, etc.). Based on what we saw of the real Sully, Hanks captured both his humility and steeliness. Aaron Eckhart was a good foil as Sully’s co-pilot, Jeff Skiles. Laura Linney wasn’t really required to do much as Sully’s wife, Lorraine. In the opening paragraph I gave kudos to Clint Eastwood. I imagine that recognition should also be provided to Todd Komarnicki, who wrote the screenplay based on Sullenberger’s book Highest Duty. This is a movie that is highly worth seeing. There is Oscar buzz, but I can’t see it standing up to Manchester by the Sea. I’m positive that Clint Eastward will be nominated for a director’s award. If they had retrieved the theme song from The High and the Mighty, a favorite 1954 aviation flick starring John Wayne, it could have been aptly applied. Gotta run to catch a movie! Check out the Sully trailer below.