It’s so rare that any good news seems to happen – perhaps that’s part of what made the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ such an incredible event. A plane crash in which everybody survived, and a captain who quietly and respectfully said that he was only doing his job – a man who truly deserved the label of hero. Sully recounts the story of that day and the investigation afterwards, and offers us a quietly engaging and terrific drama.
After striking a flock of geese takes out the engines of the US Airways Flight 1549, Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) tries to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River and miraculously, all of the 155 passengers and crew survive. Sully becomes a national hero in the eyes of the public and the media, but despite the accolades, the famed pilot now faces an investigation into the incident that threatens to destroy both his reputation and his career.
There is some supporting work from Aaron Eckhart as Jeff Skiles, the plane’s first officer, and Laura Linney, as Sullenberger’s wife, but this a film that belongs to Tom Hanks. Hank delivers a typically strong performance and, in the sheer understatedness of it, it is possible to forget that you’re watching an actor. This is an ordinary man, uncomfortable with the descriptions of him as a hero and at points racked with doubt that he may have been able to do something differently, or that he may have made a mistake. Casting Hanks as a genuine nice guy is a real cliché, but it works for him and he does strong work with it here.
The quiet simplicity of Hanks’ performance is matched by Clint Eastwood’s abilities and unpretentiousness as a director – he juggles an interesting narrative structure with aplomb, centring it in Sully and his feelings. We get to enjoy (if that is the right word) the spectre of the plane crash, and the special effect work is fantastic – however, Eastwood chooses to hold back from that main event until about an hour into the film (allowing him to add in simulations, flashbacks and other viewpoints).
Instead, the focus is on the aftermath, the investigation and the stuff that we may be less familiar with (after all, there can only be so much tension in a crash we know everybody survives) and although it seems the film is making villains out of the air crash investigators (an approach it is a touch too heavy-handed with), its focus is a touch different. It is a film inspired by good news, inspired by a respect for those who did their jobs and helped turn a potential crisis into a tale of the questions of heroism and duty – its focus on the hearing serves only to help reinforce that message, as does a clip in the credits of the survivors greeting Captain Sullenberger and expressing their gratitude.
Sully is not the finest work in the oeuvre of either Eastwood or Hanks, but it is quietly compelling and a testament to human spirit at its best. The film is played very low-key, and may be a bit of a turn-off for those demanding a barrage of action, but that’s not what the movie is aiming for. A strong story, strong performances and very competent direction make this a very enjoyable watch.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Tom Hanks (Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger), Aaron Eckhart (Jeff Skiles), Laura Linney (Lorraine Sullenberger), Mike O’Malley (Charles Porter), Jamey Sheridan (Ben Edwards), Anna Gunn (Elizabeth Davis)
Running Time: 96 Mins