I had two movies on my list to definitely see in the theater this summer and one of them was Clint Eastwood’s latest, Sully. I won’t bore you with the details of what the story is about because if you didn’t hear about the forced water landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in 2009 and what it took for Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger to land that bird on the Hudson River in one piece, you probably don’t have electricity or leave your house enough to watch movies anyway.
On the technical side there is nothing to complain about with the product that Eastwood produced. The cinematography, the musical score and the special effects combined with real footage of the incident and the media coverage which followed are all excellent. It’s a very immersive experience in the theater, though I believe it will carry over well to the small screen also. Tom Hanks does a wonderful job in the title role and he’s aided by a compelling supporting performance from Aaron Eckhart as his co-pilot for the doomed flight. A surprising treat is provided by Laura Linney, who plays Sully’s wife.
If you’re worried that the film is just a recreation of the flight, don’t be. That’s provided in full from various perspectives throughout the film and it doesn’t disappoint, but the real story is about the aftermath of the event, particularly the investigation by the NTSB into the details of the incident. Therein comes the only potential problem I had with this movie. Mike O’Malley plays Charles Porter, the (fictional) head of the NTSB safety team investing the crash and he’s the bad guy in the film. And I mean he’s the really bad guy. Without giving too much of the movie away, he heads up a group which grills Sully and his co-pilot relentlessly, asking questions such as when the last time was that he had a drink and if he was having marital problems. The bureau develops computer simulations and orders pilot operated flight simulator runs in what’s portrayed as an attempt to claim that Flight 1549 could have made it to either of two airports nearby and landed safely. The film makes the NTSB look like they’re purposely trying to railroad Sully and blame him not only for the loss of the aircraft, but endangering the lives of all the passengers due to his faulty judgement. I found myself immediately wondering if they were really that bad.
I didn’t do any research on this beforehand to avoid spoiling the film for myself, but it’s a question which has already come up. People from the NTSB complained during interviews that they were made out to be the bad guys when they were simply doing their jobs. (Warning: there’s plenty of background on this issue at that link, but it will probably spoil more of the film for you if you read it.) They did ask him about drinking and his home life, but they ask every pilot that after there’s been an incident. And they apparently did run the simulations in question, but how they conducted those simulations was challenged by Sullenberger. That series of events is one of the most fascinating and emotionally gripping in the movie and I won’t spoil it for you here.
All in all, I enjoyed the film immensely and I won’t deny that I teared up a couple of times. It’s a fantastic story about real heroism and people who came together to pull off a miracle.
On the Hot Air scale, Sully gets a qualified five, but I bounced back and forth between that and a four. It’s not an instant classic by any means and if you didn’t show any interest in the real story when it played out in the news you may not find it up your alley. But if you loved Sully then or just enjoy the story of a real American hero I think it will be worth your time at full price.
- 5 – Full price ticket
- 4 – Matinee only
- 3 – Wait for Blu-Ray/DVD/PPV rental or purchase
- 2 – Watch it when it hits Netflix/cable
- 1 – Avoid at all costs
Sully is rated PG-13 for some peril and brief strong language. That’s accurate, though the “peril” is obviously more in the form of what I would call “tension” in a thriller. It should be digestible for all ages, though parents may have to explain things about aircraft safety to younger children. The course language is infrequent, understandable in the context of the events being portrayed and no worse than what you hear on television in the evenings for the most part.