There’s a reason Tom Hanks keeps playing the reliable everyman in charge of/caught up in a crisis (Saving Private Ryan, Apollo 13, Bridge of Spies et al), and that’s simply because he’s so damn good at it. The 60-year-old exudes decency and steadiness, looking every inch a man you would trust your life with.
First, let’s review the facts of the real-life crisis that inspired Sully. On January 15, 2009, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles were piloting US Airways 1549 out of New York to Charlotte, North Carolina. Literally minutes after taking off, the plane was hit by a flock of geese that caused both engines to fail.
What happened next has been termed The Miracle on the Hudson. Sully and Skiles successfully landed the plane on the Hudson River without losing any of the 155 passengers and crew on board. Sounds incredible? As Sully (Hanks) puts it, “Everything is unprecedented, until it happens for the first time”.
There’s something exceedingly familiar about watching Sully announce to his passengers: “This is the captain speaking. Brace for impact.” (‘Houston, we have a problem’, anyone?). There’s a lot of technical jargon in the movie that will go over your head, but at the heart of it all, Hanks carries the movie.
He has many outstanding supporting players (Aaron Eckhart as Skiles, Laura Linney as Sully’s wife, Anna Gunn as a pesky NTSB investigator), but they really aren’t given a whole lot to do. It’s all about making the star shine, and he does it effortlessly. One might argue that this does a disservice to Skiles and the real-life crew, as even Sully has said that the successful landing was a team effort.
While the central incident is brilliantly recreated (“It was not a crash. it was a forced water landing,” says Sully solemnly), it’s the aftermath that is the real focus of the movie. It’s all based on the somewhat ridiculous premise of a man who saved 154 lives being questioned by others about the validity of his actions, even as he is plagued by self-doubt, guilt, PTSD and overwhelming attention.
This is director Clint Eastwood’s second consecutive movie based on a real person, after American Sniper, though Sully is a far less controversial persona than Chris Kyle. But Eastwood does seem to have a hankering for real-life stories, having helmed movies about FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and World War II soldiers.
While Eastwood’s narrative style is generally linear and straightforward, Sully goes back and forth in time, replete with flashbacks and dream sequences. While it does lift the quality of the tale, the movie never quite hits the heights.
The lead up to and the forced landing aside, there are few highs in this movie. There’s a reason that the run time is only 96 minutes, and that’s because there really isn’t all that much story to tell. It’s ultimately a serviceable feel good tale, led by the only man who could have conceivably played Sully.
Sully opens in Singapore tomorrow. Tell us what you think of the movie!