Thoughts on Film: “Sully” A solid movie despite some usual biopic hiccups

 

Clint Eastwood’s latest film “Sully,” chronicles the famous ‘Miracle on the Hudson,’ one of the most famous crash landings in the history of flight.

Famous of course, for that everyone from the passengers to the crew survived what was thought to be impossible; landing a plane in the middle of a river, in the freezing cold and in New York City, one of the most densely populated places on earth.

Yet on January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 bound for Charlotte, did just that. Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger and first officer Jeffery Skiles, played by Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart respectively, the plane lands in the Hudson and ‘Sully’ goes from an experienced pilot to an exceptional one.

The film keeps the plot lean by focusing solely on the landing and the subsequent investigation that follows. Eastwood uses the investigation as a framing device to deliver to the audience the famous crash landing not once but twice.

With the plane now out of the freezing waters of the Hudson. The National Transportation Safety Board begins to grill the men for their decision. The inquiry claims that the plane could have made it back to LaGaurdia Airport when one of the engines was not as badly damaged as the men had thought. While Sully tries to explain that it wasn’t possible, one member of the group Charles Porter, a pugnacious Mike O’Malley, digs in.

Faced with the prospect that there was another way to get the passengers to safety, Sully begins to doubt himself. This on top of the surreal and all-too-fast rise to fame makes him feel adrift and isolated, emotions that Hanks captures beautify.

Hanks is also able to convey Sully’s other emotions, but perhaps the most important is the coolness that Sully has about him. Sully rarely raised his voice in the film, he does so once and that’s when he is evacuation the plane and looking to make sure no one is left behind.

The only two cheerleaders in his corner are his wife Lorraine, a concerned Laura Linney and Skiles. Skiles in particular, is adamant that Sully did the right because it was the only thing. That and apparently he didn’t have any ideas on how to land the plane at the moment.

In terms of direction, Eastwood does a wonderful job of recreating the landing. He managed to get the exact boats from the New York Waterway ferry service, which resued the passengers and even one of the pilots, Peter Vincent ‘Vince’ Lombardi, to play himself in the role. Eastwood made the film as accurately as possible even as so far to edit a ring that Sully wears in real life to get the right color.

In the seven years since the landing, the skyline has changed so much that it even made the landing even more astounding.

I myself remember that day, coming home from school and my dad watching the news. I remember the relief I felt when the news broke that all 155 survived the crash. One thing everyone who was on that flight remembers that I do is that it was really cold.

While I’m not sure if “Sully” will get nominated for any Academy Awards, Hanks could very well be an early contender for the award for Best Actor and Eastwood for Director. The film would also do well in the technical department such as Sound and Editing.

The only hiccup is the characterization of the NTSB officials. ¬†Sullenberger himself asked to have the names of the investigators be changed so that they didn’t come off as “prosecutorial,” the fact that they get the tar and feather treatment is a bit unfair.

While Eastwood claimed that as he read the script which depicted the officials ‘railroading’ Sullenberger and Skiles, which put them on the defensive, the real-life investigators were actually astounded by the level of calmness and teamwork the two men had in order to bring the plane to safety.

In fact, the NTSB, which has no regulatory powers in the U.S. government, only makes recommendations. They made 35 safety recommendations as a result of Sullenberger’s historic landing. Even though it’s become practice that some historical aspect is alter to further dramatize the plot, using the NTSB as a scapegoat may create more harm than good when the public, such as myself, are placed in a disaster involving transport.

While I will not damn the film for this, I will advise a word of caution on biopics and for anyone who has seen or yet to see the film. Filmmakers like, Eastwood are amazing at what they do, including creating narratives for an audience to follow. However perception has a funny way of becoming reality for some people. We should be as if not more so because as the old adage goes, you can’t believe everything you read or see these days.

Grade A-

Sully is rated PG-13, Plane landing in the Hudson, ’nuff said.

Top Lines:  

“I would have done it in July”: Last line in the film uttered by Jeffery Skiles.

“The best way to leave from LaGaurdia is to fly from JFK”: ¬†Donna the stewardess as the flight taxis off the runway.

“40 years in the air but in the end and I’m going to be judged on 208 seconds” Sully.

 

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