On January 15, 2009, a US Airways plane was on a regular flight from New York’s LaGuardia to Charlotte, North Carolina, when the unprecedented happened.
A flock of birds flew directly into the flight path, compromising both engines and forcing the pilot with more than 40 years’ experience, Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger (Tom Hanks), to make an emergency landing in the Hudson River.
The photos of the landing and the captain and crew responsible for saving the lives of all 155 souls on board are well known around the world, and are now the subject of a biopic by Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood.
Opening with images of what could have eventuated if the landing on the edge of Manhattan hadn’t gone as planned, it’s a gutsy move from a director who hasn’t been afraid to push buttons in the past.
Not a long film, whole lengths are dedicated to dissection of the incident itself, largely from the perspective of the titular pilot.
Told in real time in parts, it’s in these dramatic sequences, and only these, where Sully and its creative team really excel.
Painstakingly recreating the initial fallout and reactions from the cockpit, passengers and ground control, Eastwood doesn’t shy away from the tensest moments of the accident.
You’re there for every step of it, whether in the control tower, crouched in the back of the airliner or bracing for impact up front, Eastwood plays out every moment of the horrific ordeal.
Based on his own autobiography, the real Sully, now a public speaker and safety and aviation expert for CBS News, had more than a passing involvement in the picture, making an appearance himself and even meeting with Hanks and co-star Aaron Eckhart to run some training simulations.
The film, largely focused on the hearing and controversy immediately following the famous events, is overwhelmingly sympathetic to and derivative of Sully’s account and post-landing predicament.
Hinting at a broader narrative of the media firestorm and how quickly and easily the title of hero can be taken away, the only significant moments of doubt regarding the legitimacy of Sully’s actions are from Sully himself and an overly uncongenial air crash investigator (Mike O’Malley).
Other characters barely feature and then only enough to reinforce the film’s outlook. Notably, Laura Linney as Sully’s partner doesn’t actually share scenes with him and is predominantly there for Sully to relay his concerns over the phone before the hearing.
There’s never any real question about Sully, played by no less than Reader’s Digest’s “most trusted man in America”, or his actions that day.
Eastwood uncharacteristically misses any number of sidelined opportunities to address wider themes in favour of delivering a life-affirming flick.
In spite of the jarring flight sequences that will no doubt stay in viewers’ minds, Eastwood’s treatment of the ‘Hero on the Hudson’ may just be the feelgood movie of the month.
Sully is in cinemas from September 8