By Lorna Baker
On January 15th 2009, Airline Pilot Chesley Sullenberger and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles managed to safely land their plane (with 155 people on board) on the River Hudson in New York after losing both their engines to a bird strike.
It sounds like a typical, Hollywood miracle-drama, well, it’s amazingly true and directed by movie icon Clint Eastwood.
Based on the book Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters by Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow; it’s a disaster movie with an unusually happy ending. I was sceptical about the adaptation, since the whole nightmare incident only took five minutes in total from take-off to landing in the River Hudson. How could this be expanded into a feature-length movie? Would there be enough content to keep the audience gripped? Well, the short answer is yes.
Clint Eastwood intelligently structures the film, cutting up the airplane drama throughout the film rather than just cramming it into the first segment. However, the opening few minutes do surprise you, as they contain the unfortunate flight, but with a slight adjustment: it crashes into the centre of Manhattan. This of course, is a nightmare, but brings back terrifying memories of 9/11. The film is littered with these hallucinations from Chesley Sullenberger (Tom Hanks), showing the terrible consequences if he’d not taken the path to ditch the plane into the Hudson. It’s these scenes that prove the most arresting, showing the emotional and psychological toll the incident has on Sully. Hanks does a fine job in these scenes, showing his character’s doubts and worries, whilst managing to appear calm in front of the air disaster investigators and the numerous media appearances.
Tom Hanks offers a confident performance overall, though it’s easy to draw close comparisons with 2013’s biographical survival thriller Captain Phillips. In both, Tom starred in the role of an ordinary man going about his job. Both show his transition into a saviour through his courageous acts, and both show the psychological effect that this experience has on our hero. However, it’s Captain Phillips which contains more moments of emotional heft for Tom Hanks to get his superior acting chops into. This is not the fault of Hanks or Eastwood, but more to do with the relatively short amount of drama in this film.
Eastwood handles the crash scenes with a sense of calmness to great success, they provide moments of palpable tension. The numerous flashbacks are truly harrowing; perhaps don’t fly shortly after seeing this film! However, it’s the moments that take place in the interrogations room that provide the most frustration. The investigators come across the pantomime villain more than professionals.
The secondary characters are somewhat redundant in this film; the storyline involving the three passengers only seems to be included for sentiment. Aaron Eckhart isn’t given as much to do in the film as Hanks either, despite the importance of his character in the saviour of the passengers on the plane. He seems to be there to add a little light relief to Sully, never really showing any side-effects from their astonishing escape. Laura Linney plays Sully’s wife, but is left to do some phone acting rather than a heart-breaking reunion with Hank’s character.
This film feels very reminiscent of the 2012 Denzel Washington starrer Flight, as both have miraculous air survival stories, but Flight has the advantage of being an original screenplay. That film contained the flawed hero, the grit beneath the courageous exterior. Since this film is based on a real man and a real situation, it is somewhat restricted in how it can portray the characters. This is no fault of Eastwood and co of course, but it does restrict the amount of character exploration in the film. Overall, it’s an entertaining movie, but in its brisk 96 minute-runtime, it only just scrapes the surface of our hero Chesley Sullenberger.
Cineroom’s Rating: 3 Stars
Sully is out in cinemas nationwide with limited screenings – certificate 12A