Film Review: SULLY
Starring Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Produced by Clint Eastwood, Frank Marshall, Tim Moore, Allyn Stewart
Written by Todd Komarnicki
Based on the book “Highest Duty,” by Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow
Music by Christian Jacob, The Tierney Sutton Band
Cinematography by Tom Stern
Edited by Blu Murray
Imagine working diligently and successfully as an airline pilot for decades, dutifully transporting hundreds of thousands of people here and there in the air without a hitch, when all of a sudden—a literal sudden moment—you’re piloting a passenger plane out of LaGuardia Airport in one of the most densely populated regions on the planet (the New York City area), and a flock of birds, flying fast out of nowhere, it seems, slams into your plane, knocking out both engines in seconds. There you are, up in the air, without much power, hovering over millions of people, with no chance of getting back to the airport safely, few options, and even fewer minutes to decide what to do. So you make a command decision—a command decision of a lifetime–to land the plane in the Hudson River, with the risky, but still cautious, hope that the plane will float long enough to get your 155 passengers and crew safely off the plane, onto the wings and rafts, and to have everyone rescued by emergency crews before anyone drowns or has a heart attack from the surrounding frigidly freezing water in the Hudson River. And, as a classic happy ending conclusion, the plane does land safely in the Hudson, and all of the passengers and crew are indeed subsequently, heroically rescued—within thirty minutes–and all survive, with only minor injuries.
Sounds like a great story for a movie, doesn’t it?
The scenario could seem to be either preposterous, unbelievable or ridiculous to some people—if that exact story hadn’t actually happened. That incredible story did indeed happen, on Jan. 15, 2009, exactly as described above. And in the aftermath of the heroic landing and rescue, the plane’s captain, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, and First Officer, Jeffery Skiles, became—rightfully so, it should be noted—national heroes and instantly positive, uplifting, highly-praised heroes.
However, amid the hero worship, fame, press, interviews, television appearances, newspaper and magazine articles, some ruthless, somewhat misguided and wayward investigators with some serious perception, insight and even transportation policy problems and issues at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) decided that somehow it was their duty to try and prove that Sully made the wrong decision and was somehow at fault for his successful emergency landing that not only save the lives of 155 people but also spared the lives of countless people on land from what could have been an horrific and disastrous crash. These investigators—bizarrely and strangely working off of wholly unrealistic and misguided computer simulations, models and programs that completely left out any possibility of humanity, human thinking and even connection to what actually happened in the incident—hold a series of seemingly fascist public hearings—all evil sneers, rude comments, unprofessional behaviors, intensive and unfair grillings, idiotic questions and generally unprofessional behavior—during which Sully and Skiles are relentlessly grilled about their actions on Jan. 15, 2009.
In the end—and it’s not giving anything away nor is it throwing out any spoilers, because, well, most people know the outcome—Sully and Skiles end up prevailing and being cleared by the evil NTSB robots—of course they are—but only after the collection of aftermath grillings, investigations, simulation tests, press scrutiny, nightmares, family problems and bizarro public interactions take their collective toll on Sully, Skiles and their families and friends. However, they’re not affected enough to cause any truly serious problems—because they know, deep down, that what they did on that fateful day on Jan. 15, 2009, was simply the right thing to do. They also know that they saved the lives of 155 people through a risky, but cautious, emergency maneuver; that they had limited options; that they had to act literally within minutes; and that they truly did what they felt was right at that frenzied moment in time.
Thus, this entire scenario—the moments leading up to the flight, the emergency landing itself—the landing was not a crash, but an emergency landing, as Sully himself keeps reminding people—the immediate rescue of the survivors in the suspenseful moments after the landing, and the subsequent affect of the NTSB investigation, the instant fame and celebrity and the psychological and emotional affects of all of this on Sully, Skiles and their friends, family members, colleagues and associates are realistically, steadily, maturely and intelligently explored on a very down-to-earth, steady, even-handed and straightforward manner by director and co-producer Clint Eastwood in the excellent new dramatic film “Sully,” scheduled to be released today, Friday, Sept. 9, 2016. The film is a fine, excellent, intelligent opening film for the fall movie season (even though it’s technically still summer), which tends to focus more on dramatic films.
“Sully,” starring an outstanding, realistic Tom Hanks as Sully, a solid Aaron Eckhart as Skiles and Laura Linney in a dramatic turn as Sully’s very-worried wife at home, shows real people in real situations acting in a real manner in real places during real events. The film is entirely realistic—but, to the film’s credit, the film also remains entertaining, suspenseful and continually watchable. That’s saying something, since most of the film is people talking to each other. Except for the exceptional plane landing sequences—a marvel of modern-day special effects, computer-generated imagery and a variety of filmic technical achievements—“Sully” is mostly dialogue. However, it’s dialogue that remains intelligent, adult, clever, insightful, dramatic and entertaining. It certainly helps that the film is based on a true story, and on a biography by Sully himself, “Highest Duty” (co-written with Jeffrey Zaslow), but there still has to be a smart, sharp, watchable film script to hold the film together. That type of script is there, written by Todd Komarnicki, who smartly avoids most corny, campy disaster-movie clichés and, again, keeps thing grounded and reality-based.
Everyone else follows the script’s lead, and, again and again, the overall impression to take away from “Sully” is just how realistic and reality-based this film is, and how, in many ways, the film is almost anti-movie-tradition on almost every level. The acting, except for a few characters and moments, is almost always so subdued and real, some lines are uttered or mumbled instead of delivered in a traditional acting manner; camera angles are kept even, steady and traditional, to Eastwood and cinematographer Tom Stern’s credit—there is nothing overly fancy about the camera work, and that’s how it should be here; the music is very subtle and, for long stretches, underhanded and at times barely audible or non-existent—as it should be; the costuming is pedestrian and real-life, as it should be; the production design is enjoyable normal—everything just appears to be as it would be exactly in real life—as it should be. Characters, personifications, acting and dialogue are all about as normal and everyday and realistic as you would see in real life—again, as it should be. Thus, “Sully” is a movie, of course, but it’s a movie that cleverly doesn’t strive to, or have to, continually remind you that it’s a movie.
The reason a film like “Sully” should be without crazily overdramatic filmic bells and whistles is because the very story, characters, actions and plot are inherently dramatic, suspenseful, interesting and entertaining. There’s no need to dress things up, makes things overly dramatic and add crazy, unneeded characters, dialogue, situations and intrusive, over-done music, costumes, dialogue or performances—problems, by the way, that have plagued, troubled and even destroyed dozens of attempted movie biographies through the decades.
There are good film biographies, of course, but there are many that have been ruined by overdone, overly-dramatic scripts, actors, performances and directors who amazingly could not see that they didn’t need to do most of what they did because the dramatic story was staring at them right there in real life. There have been many film biographies that even left the still-alive subjects of the films scratching their heads, shaking their heads and wondering—often publicly, and rightfully so—“What the hell was that? Who was that in that film? That certainly wasn’t me. And, by the way—some of those people and incidents did not exist, and some of those things just did not happen in real life as they occurred in the movie.”
That doesn’t appear to be the case with “Sully.”
Aaron Eckhart, who delivers a very cool, steady, and, yes, still-charismatic portrayal of Skiles, who backs Sully’s actions from the first moments of the flight through the horrible NTSB investigation to the end, told “People” magazine that Hanks perfectly personified Sully in every way, according to the magazine. According to “People:” “He really embodied him,” the 48-year-old actor [Eckhart] explained. “He obviously spent a lot of time with Sully, and just physically with his hair, and the mustache…He started holding himself straight like Sully did, and his economy of speech, and all of that sort of stuff that really nailed the precision of Captain Sullenberger. It was really impressive.” “Sully himself regularly visited the set, where an Airbus A320 was disassembled and transported to a pool on the Los Angeles Warner Bros. lot,” according to the magazine. “Scenes were also shot on New York’s Hudson River using many of the actual rescue boats and people who were there that day,” the magazine said.
Also according to “People:” According to Hanks, it was important to him that the film convey the pilot’s deep integrity and “[protect], I think mostly, his reputation being at stake…This man did his job perfectly for 4 million passengers or something like that. He says in the movie, his entire career is gonna be judged on 208 seconds, as opposed to the thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of hours he did his job perfectly,” Hanks told reporters at the premiere, the magazine reported. Eastwood, meanwhile, said that signing on to the movie wasn’t a difficult decision to make, according to the magazine. “Not only is it a great story in the way Sullenberger handled it but the impact it had on New York in a bad time, and the spirit it gave back to the city. Even though it was a tragic loss of a plane, there was no loss of life,” he explained to the magazine.
So, look at those comments from Eastwood, Hanks and Eckhart in the magazine article—that shows filmmakers and actors who are dedicated to simply telling that real story in a real manner, completely without any unnecessary, overwrought histrionics, or exaggerated dramatic performances. And that, again, is what moviegoers will take away from “Sully”—a suspenseful, entertaining, dramatic account of a real-life story that was dramatic and suspenseful in its own right, and a story that involved people who are all very much still with us, only seven years later. Real people, real heroes, in real life.
In fact, filmgoers who go out and enjoy “Sully”—and it is enjoyable—should stay through the end credits, where there are outtakes from a reunion of Sully and Skiles themselves and the emergency landing survivors. There is Sully, just like Hanks portrayed him, and there are the landing survivors, just as they were portrayed in the film.
Kudos to Hanks, Eckhart, Linney, Eastwood, Stern, Komarnicki and co-producers Frank Marshall, Tim Moore and Allyn Stewart for presenting a film that just simply tells its story in an intelligent, unhurried, mature and professional manner. Filmgoers can’t ask for anything more to start the fall dramatic-oriented film season.
And kudos to the amazing, also-steady and incredibly professional New York City emergency rescue crews, who responded on Jan. 15, 2009, without hesitation, without drama, without delay—and promptly, efficiently and heroically rescued 155 people—freezing, wet, chilly, frightened, worried, scared folks, as we all would be in that situation. Those emergency responders were also gallant heroes on that day. Some of those rescue workers from that day were utilized to play themselves in the film—another act of respect and professionalism from Eastwood and the crew. The rescue scenes in “Sully” are just as suspenseful as the emergency plane landing scenes. The 155 passengers and crew were rescued by a flotilla of boats and helicopters on the Hudson, and they were treated by emergency responders, police officers, firefighters, paramedics and American Red Cross workers. The passengers and crew were rescued within thirty minutes. Talk about heroic actions.
Yet again, as it should be, the rescue scenes in “Sully” are portrayed in a steady, even, realistic manner, without overdoing it—as it should be.
In the end, Sully and Skiles use their skills, experience, education, savvy, insight and intelligence to show the morons at the NTSB that they indeed do the right thing, and their heroic status remained intact. The only questions remaining are why the NTSB investigators acted in the manner that they did—but perhaps that’s a good question for a congressional oversight committee or the transportation committee that oversees the confirmations of any future NTSB nominees who may be up for re-nomination.
“Sully” is an interesting, different film that has as its goals, themes and messages only a desire to tell a true story about true people in a true manner, and along the way reminding the world, and the United States, that true heroes do exist among us, and that heroic thoughts and actions can take many forms and manifest themselves in the most unlikely ways at the most unlikely times. And that sometimes there’s a second act to heroism, in overcoming that rush of attention, fame, celebrity, press and scrutiny that follows the original heroic act. But there’s even a bit of heroism in overcoming that second act of ridiculousness—by sticking to your convictions, by standing up to morons, by standing up to naysayers, by telling the truth and telling why that truth mattered, by standing up for yourself, your colleagues and what you know is right in the end. All of that, too, is heroism. And all of that is portrayed and explored well in “Sully.”
We always need heroes, and “Sully” reminds us that there are indeed heroes among us in our time who simply ask to be remembered not for fame and glory, but for the simple task of doing what they are supposed to do, even at the most intense and frightening moments. For these themes of simple heroism, “Sully” sends an important message, and for that, the film should send folks out of the theater happy in the knowledge that true, real heroes walk among us every day.