Rated PG-13 for some peril and brief strong language
Mad Cow’s rating:
Tom Hanks seems often to be cast in the role of “real man.” Not a man of steel, a hefty football player or a manly man of a razor commercial, but an actual person who is also a man. He does this role very well, from Cast Away to Captain Phillips to Bridge of Spies. And now we see him in Sully. In all of these he doesn’t play the same man, but a character who has a full range of emotions and feels them, like anybody else, including women.
Chesley Sullenberger was the U.S. Airlines pilot who, when losing both engines after take-off from LaGuardia in 2009, landed his plan in the East River off of Manhattan. The “miracle on the Hudson” was an amazing feat, especially given that no one died. Little did anyone know that after this obvious triumph he was investigated immediately by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) which questioned his judgment. Was he depressed, on drugs or lacking sleep? Did he really have to land there? Could he have made it back to LaGuardia or to New Jersey? Sully, suffering from a kind of PTSD with dreams of crashing into Manhattan, is rattled.
Based on the book The Highest Honor by Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow with screenplay by Todd Komarnicki, the movie was directed by Clint Eastwood with the utmost grace. It would have been very easy to give us a feel-good hero movie but he goes deeper here. Questioned by the investigators (Mike O’Malley and Anna Gunn), Sully clearly wonders, at least for a while, if he indeed had made a wrong calculation and thus a wrong decision. But even if he did, is this one incident, in which everyone in fact survived, going to ruin his entire career and bankrupt him? We are with this man of courage and feeling as he goes over the event in his mind amid rudely poised questions.
I have always been thankful for the NTSB, thinking that it protects us all from air tragedies, since its presence surely encourages the airlines to do the right thing. Just today someone testified to their board that a small airline had doctored its repair records to avoid responsibility for a crash. Maybe their harshness in the movie wasn’t as bad as shown, as some argue. Or maybe the investigators saw themselves as “just doing their job.” It was certainly important, even in this case, to determine exactly what happened. But the film suggests on several levels that human decency should be important to any endeavor, even an investigation.
Laura Linney as Sully’s wife Lorraine and Aaron Eckhart as his co-pilot are excellent but minor characters in the story. Sully and his wife only communicate over the phone as he has to stay in New York for the investigation. But it isn’t a one-man show. Director Clint Eastwood wisely shows us not only how the landing happened but also how the 24-minute rescue operation occurred in freezing weather.
Boats and helicopters came to the rescue and there is something thrilling about watching it unfold. Ferry Captain Vincent Lombardi, who was there, plays himself in the movie. I was proud to see how New Yorkers came together, once again. And in fact Sully was a hero, making sure that everyone was accounted for. We are with him every second. It’s a testimony to all involved that we can watch this movie with our hearts in our mouths even as we know the outcome.
I loved this movie and while I know I’ll drive people away if I call it the “feel good movie of the year,” it left me feeling good – about humanity and intelligence and compassion. Not the most complicated of stories and probably not the deepest, the film nevertheless conveys something important about us and – forgive me for saying it again – New York.