When I read that Clint Eastwood was going to make a movie about how US Airways pilot Chesley Sullenberger landed his aircraft in the Hudson River in 2009, I had my doubts. Great hook, but too little material to fill up 90 minutes. That didn’t dissuade Eastwood or star Tom Hanks, who somehow turn said movie, Sully, into a surprisingly engrossing experience.
In early January, 2009, US Airways flight 1549, shortly after taking off from LaGuardia Airport in New York, was struck by a flock of birds, causing both engines to fail. Sullenberger (Hanks) and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) ultimately decided, and managed, to land the plane in the Hudson River, with zero casualties.
This we already know. What we didn’t know — according to the film, which Eastwood based on Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow’s book, Highest Duty — is that after the incident, Sullenberger suffered from PTSD-like symptoms, constantly questioning his own actions despite praise in the press and everyone from hotel managers to bartenders hailing him as a hero.
Eastwood compellingly conveys Sullenberger’s anxiety by visualizing it via a horrific recurring dream of Sullenberger’s, with which he opens the film. Hanks himself works within his Everyman wheelhouse quite well, nicely humanizing Sullenberger and emphasizing the idea that Sullenberger believed he just did what he was trained to do.
Hanks nonetheless plays the role straightforward, which best describes Eastwood’s direction. The film moves at a typically casual Eastwood-flick pace, and avoids flashy camerawork. But it’s not boring. Indeed, Eastwood makes the water landing the tense and frightening event it probably was, and even gleans suspense from characters viewing flight simulations.
To generate drama, Eastwood casts the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigated the mishap, as the villain, mainly in the form of its head investigator (Mike O’Malley). To me, they were just doing their job. And Eastwood should have paid more attention to the thankless role of Sullenberger’s worried wife, which pro Laura Linney does her best to flesh out. – [DVD] [Blu-Ray]
DVD Release Date: 12/20/16