Warner Bros/ Village Roadshow
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, Shockya
Director: Clint Eastwood
Written by: Todd Komarnicki, book “Sully: My Search for What Really Matters,” by Chesley Sullenberger
Cast: Tom Hanks, Laura Linney, Aaron Eckhart
Screened at: AMC Empire, NYC, 9/7/16
Opens: September 9, 2016
Only a nut would want to swim in sub-zero waters in January, folks like the small but hardy Polar Bear Club made up of men who each year take a swim in the Atlantic off Brooklyn’s Coney Island. Nor would the 155 passengers and crew of U.S. Airways flight 1549 who though they were going on a routine, undramatic trip from New York City to Charleston, South Carolina on January 15, 2009. Drama is the last thing anyone on board wanted, not the kind that would put all their lives in danger and whose very existemce depended on the actions of the plane’s captain on a most unusual Mayday.
By now everyone not only in the U.S. but around the world knows of the heroism of Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who had without incident transported a million passengers from one place to another during his forty-year career as a pilot. We all know that when a flock of starlings must have mistaken a jet aircraft for a school of fish and sacrificed their lives by invading its engines, they could have brought down human beings as though on a suicide mission. But not so many know that while Sully was immediately lauded as a hero for a most fortunate decision, some people, perhaps with sinister motives, took the opposite line. Because the aircraft captain ignored protocol, i.e. instructions from the flight controller to return to base, either to LaGuardia Airport only seven miles away or, if not practical to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, he had his feet put to the fire.
The airline seemed ready to strip Sully of his pension after his long years of service and the insurance company was out to prove that this violation of protocol meant that no money was due to the airline. Ultimately Sully’s fate lay with the National Transportation Safety Board, which held hearings, presenting evidence that despite Sully’s view–the loss of thrust from two defective engines would not allow him to reach an airport—was incorrect since the aircraft had enough capacity to enable the seven-mile jaunt to LaGuardia.
“Sully” is not a documentary, though when it departs from the melodrama of the actual flight including Sully’s nightmare of an aircraft crashing into a New York skyscraper, we are left with testimony at a hearing, a kind of modern Caine Mutiny Court Martial, which appears headed to strip the man of his glory. The film is anchored by a performance from Tom Hanks as Sully, white-haired, with a thick mustache, with Aaron Eckhart in the chief supporting role as First Officer Jeff Skiles. Once you get past a reenactment of the landing in the Hudson including a couple of computer simulations inputting the flight’s trajectory, you’re left with a) some awfully banal cellphone chatter between Sully and his wife Lorraine Sullenberger (Laura Linney), the “I love you” kind that’s de rigueur when people are either about to die or have something earthshaking to say, and b) some awfully silly acting from some of the extras, such as the three passengers who were let on the plane after the doors were closed and later wished they weren’t.
However, c) there is a great look inside the air controllers’ office when Patrick Harten (Patch Darragh) goes through what is probably the most exciting day of his life, quickly relating instructions to the pilot and the first officer but is then told that there is simply not enough thrust left to obey the routine protocol. Best of all d) the photography is impressive. You should see this on an IMAX screen if possible. Sully’s opening nightmare of a crash into skyscrapers, which might have cinephiles recalling a student’s opening dream in the movie “Final Destination,” is one that could be considered distasteful given what a band of psychotics pulled against the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
The film is rated PG-13, which should indicate to families that unless your youngsters are easily frightened by simulations of air crashes and explosions, you might want to give them a taste of what it means to be a hero. And being a hero is not always just the actions of one brave person. In this case, what Sully tells the Safety commission is not just false modesty. Tom Stern’s impressive photography captures the whole rescue scene. Three hundred police and a group of ferries were at the ditched plane within minutes rescuing all 155 people and, of course, both Sully and Skiles were the last out—personally prodding the folks in the cabin to evacuate.
This may be far from director Clint Eastwood’s best—revisionist “Unforgiven” which took four Oscars would be that one. Nor would many agree with Mr. Eastwood’s “get over it” comment to justify some of Donald Trump’s remarks. But his capable direction of “Sully” will help restore or confirm the American public’s faith in the professionalism of authorities, in this case those scores of heroes in New York who responded quickly and decisively to save people from the freezing waters of the Hudson.
Rated PG-13. 96 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B-
Acting – B
Technical – A-
Overall – B