Sully shows heroic moments, aftermath of Hudson miracle

Hollywood has a trend of regularly producing content with which people already have a connection. The audience either knows the characters from pre-existing films or recognizes them from real life. This leads to the creation of biopics like The Walk, Steve Jobs, The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, the upcoming Snowden and the recently released Sully, directed by Clint Eastwood.

Tom Hanks is the perfect fit for the title role. He is the lovable American father archetype that everybody wants to trust and believe in. On Jan. 15, 2009, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger landed a damaged plane in the Hudson River, saving the lives of all passengers and crew members. When the film’s bureaucratic hearings question whether he acted properly, it is not possible to mistrust him.

The film opens powerfully but then falls into a slog. For approximately 20 minutes, Hanks jogs around New York City in between sudden flashbacks or dream sequences. The former establishes his past relationship with flight while the latter depict his fears of what could have happened if he acted differently.

With an hour and a half runtime, it feels as though it was tacked on simply for the purpose of making the film feature-length. These add-ons simultaneously create a separation between an intense opening and the scene portraying, “The Miracle on the Hudson.”

Once the film enters the cockpit of US Airways Flight 1549, Sully begins to hit its stride. Through quick yet meaningful segments, some of the 155 passengers on board are given faces and stories. The personhood draws the audience in, illustrating that they were more than just a number.

There is the mother and grandmother on their way back from a trip to New York, a woman with her baby and a father with his sons, shown heading out to go golfing. They serve as a reminder that, besides being a story that was reported, written, adapted and filmed, this was a moment in the lives of a significant number of human beings. They are not just passengers; they are people.

As the plane descends past buildings, both in actuality and in Sully’s imagination, it tugs on some painful memories for New York. The main character envisions buildings destroyed by a plane which could not make it to LaGuardia Airport and, in the reality of the film, a smoking plane flies low over the George Washington Bridge as passengers tearfully pray to survive.

The parallels to the events of Sept. 11, 2001 are key elements of the emotional backbone of this film, poignantly evoked in the line, “It’s been a while since New York had news this good. Especially with a plane.”

In truth, the movie does not have much content to work with since its story is based on a flight and the hearings that followed it. Besides the aforementioned scenes of Tom Hanks jogging, there are tacked on scenes of Sully’s wife, portrayed by Laura Linney, as she talks to her husband over the phone in between hearings. The scenes could have been added on with some filming by a second unit crew in order to pad out the runtime. In an original film, she could have been a wife imagining that her husband had survived a horrific plane crash, saving all passengers in the process. Since the movie is real, her role feels unnecessary.

Aside from about half an hour of content that the film could have done without, Sully is intense and emotional, then sweet and uplifting. The plane strikes a flock of Canada Geese and the emotional attachment to the passengers pays off.

The camera shakes and the flight attendants begin chanting repeatedly, rhythmically, hauntingly, “Heads down. Stay down.” Sully begins communications with air traffic control, trying to find a way out. Every element and angle on the ground, in the tower, on the plane, in the cockpit, in the air and in the sea is covered in this extremely detailed chronicle of the event. This is the best sequence in the film.

Once the plane is in the water, it is touching to watch Captain Sullenberger as he tries to find out if he saved everyone. Casting Hanks as the main character plays a strong part in showing how much this man cared for the passengers. This was a man focused on the well-being of all his passengers. It is pure and genuine, defying cynicism.

The film then takes on the structure of The Social Network with the content of an ‘80s movie. There are hearings where the lovable American hero is taken to task by bureaucrats who do not understand the human factor. They run simulations and use computers but they cannot get what it means to actually be there in the cockpit.

The movie becomes a little cheesy but, sometimes, it is nice to have something cheesy. People react to Sully’s heroism with affection, whether it be through hugs, dry-cleaning or naming a drink after him—Grey Grey Goose With a Splash of Water.

The film almost asks the audience to applaud, even ending with a quip by Aaron Eckhart’s character, co-pilot Jeff Skiles. It is the kind of movie which feels comforting after a summer of dark heroes and box office busts.

Sully is a remarkable true story that displays a portrait of a good man whose heroism lay in having knowledge and using it during chaos and peril.