Clint Eastwood’s new film “Sully” is a modest character drama about one professional guy who simply did his job under an extraordinary circumstance. As revolving around that dangerous moment which could have gone terribly wrong for not only him but also many others, the movie presents a concise, earnest portrayal of its hero’s humble professionalism, and it is often moving to watch those genuine moments of integrity and dedication observed from him.
The movie is about a real-life aviation accident which happened on January 15th, 2009. Shortly after departing from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport, US Airways Flight 1549 collided with a flock of Canada geese, and that instantly caused the failure of both of its two jet engines. After quickly judging that the emergency landing at LaGuardia Airport or the other nearby airport was too risky, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger decided to land his plane on the Hudson River instead, and everyone on the plane including him survived thanks to this impromptu decision of his.
This is not much of a spoiler to you even if you are not so familiar with the incident, for the story starts with its hero during the aftermath of the accident. Sullenberger, played by Tom Hanks with whitened hair, is still haunted by how the accident could have killed everyone on the plane at any chance, and there is also an impending matter he and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) must deal with now. The investigation committee is already assembled by National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and the committee is going to check thoroughly whether landing the plane on the Hudson River was really the only option at that point as Sullenberger and Skiles claim.
Sullenberger believes his decision was right, but the committee members have a different view. Based on their experts’ opinions, the committee members believe that the emergency landing at either of two airports was a viable option. If they are not persuaded enough to change their position, the upcoming conclusion of their ongoing investigation may seriously affect Sullenberger’s long, stellar aviation career.
While the screenplay by Todd Komarnicki, which is based on “Highest Duty” written by Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow, generates obligatory dramatic tension from fictional elements (the NTSB committee members were less hostile to Sullenberger in real life compared to how their fictional counterparts are depicted in the movie, for example), the movie does not hurry itself as slipping into a somber, introspective mode along with its hero. As Sullenberger quietly struggles with growing doubts alone in the middle of Manhattan, we get occasional flashback moments which function as the small glimpses into his professional background, and we also watch how Sullenberger and his partner handled their emergency situation during that short but perilous flight of US Airways Flight 1549.
As being shown more than once via different perspectives, the crash landing on the Hudson River looks realistic on the screen with considerable dramatic impacts. Although this part is accompanied with a few clichés such as an ailing old lady, it does not feel heavy-handed on the whole as succinctly handled under Eastwood’s understated direction. Eastwood shot the movie mostly in IMAX film, and I can assure you that the crash landing sequences surely look big on the huge screen, but I am not so sure about whether that was necessary or not, considering that the movie is essentially a small-scale drama more focusing on its hero’s emotional state.
Tom Hanks has always been effortless in embodying decent ordinary men as recently shown from “Captain Phillips” (2013) and “Bridge of Spies” (2015), and he diligently carries the movie while never overstating his character’s inner turmoil. Thanks to his engaging screen presence, Sullenberger in the movie comes to us as a good human being interesting to watch, and we later notice the same human qualities from real Sullenberger when he is shown in the footage accompanying the end credits.
While most of the cast members are more or less than background details surrounding Hanks, the special mention must go to Aaron Eckhart, who ably holds his own place next to his co-star during their main scenes. He and Hanks are believable as two colleagues who have clicked well with each other as friends and partners, and Eckhart is priceless when his character gets a chance to have his final words to the committee members. As Sullenberger’s concerned wife, Laura Linney has a thankless job of clutching the phone throughout the film, but her phone conversation scenes with Hanks seldom feel like fillers, and I was not surprised to learn later that they actually interacted with each other over the phone during the shooting.
Although I and many of my liberal friends and acquaintances have not been that pleased about his recent political view, “Sully” shows that Eastwood is still a first-rate filmmaker who has not lost any of what he has honed for last 45 years since his directorial debut work “Play Misty for Me” (1971). He clearly admires Sullenberger’s professional sense of responsibility, and his admiration also extends to many other professionals who promptly came to the crash landing spot for the rescue and did their job as much as they could like Sullenberger. As depicted in the film, everyone on the plane was rescued within 30 minutes after the crash landing, and that was indeed another part of miracle worthwhile to be mentioned.
By the way, I want to tell you one interesting thing I observed during my viewing. While I and my parents watched “Sully” during last Sunday morning, the rescue sequence in the movie touched my parents a lot in a bitter way, and I heard their audible responses during the screening. They and many other South Koreans still remember well the sinking incident of MV Sewol in 2014 April, and they are also well aware of how its enormous human tragedy was caused by the sheer incompetence and ignorance of our government, which, to our dismay, remain same as before as shown from its clumsy response to the recent earthquakes in this year. Watching how everything could be worked out so wonderfully for Sullenberger and others on the plane, we could only envy what made that miracle on the Hudson River possible.