This is probably the least military-related movie we’ve ever reviewed here, even though the hero (who is, to the relief of anyone who’s been watching movies lately, actually shown as a hero) is a veteran. Indeed, he’s a man who’s worn the mantle of heroism like a hair shirt, insisting that “I was just doing my job.” He was; it’s what airline pilots do. What’s different is only the challenge that was thrown at him and his copilot, and the success with which they met it. (Today is a friend’s first revenue flight in new equipment — 787 — to Shanghai. Like all pros, he is impressed with what Captain Chesley Sullenberger and FO Jeff Skiles of US Air did, and hopes that he never faces such a tough problem, and that if he does, he handles it as well as they did).
In case you were under a rock during this January 2009 incident, Sully’s US Air Airbus 320 ingested a large quantity of geese into both engines on climbout from New York’s Kennedy Airport. Copilot Jeff Skiles was pilot flying, and Sully was pilot monitoring, but he took control of the plane after the birdstrikes. Out of power, altitude and options, he couldn’t make it back to the airfield — or to any other. He chose to make a water landing.
While there have been several jetliner water landings with survivors in the six-plus decades of jet air travel, this event was was unusual in that everyone survived. It helped that the incident happened in winter months, and the usual summer swarms of pleasure boaters were not active.
Acting and Production
The actors are all perfect in their roles, and the two men of the aircrew are made up as pretty near ringers of the two pilots, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, and Jeff Skiles. Tom Hanks is his usual Everyman as Sully……and Aaron Eckhart shows that he has acting chops beyond his usual action-hero roles as copilot Skiles.
Supporting actors in important roles such as accident investigators (one of them Anna Gunn of Breaking Bad fame), union reps, Sully’s wife, New York river boatmen (one of them a real harbor ferry captain, playing himself), and the passengers and cabin crew are all just right. The producers and director knocked themselves out to show us regular people doing regular things on a day that turned out to be extraordinary for all of them.
Director Clint Eastwood makes a complicated script with flashbacks and dream sequences flow clearly, somehow; it’s never confusing, even though he monkeys with your head: is this a flashback to an actual event that ended one way, or a nightmare that will end the event differently? After a couple of times, you lose all complacency in anticipation.
Accuracy and Weapons
There are no weapons to speak of in the movie, although there’s a brief appearance by a pair of F4 Phantoms, as Sully flashes back to a previous emergency during his Air Force days. The Phantoms are in the correct period camouflage.
The flying stuff is generally pretty accurate, both in the depiction of what went right and of what would have gone wrong with some small changes in aeronautical decision making.
CGI is, mirabile dictu, used to make extremely realistic and convincing renderings of things that would be hard or impossible to pull off with practical effects. The Airbus A320 is particularly well-rendered to include aerodynamic effects on the wings and the effects of bird ingestion on the powerplants.
The accident investigation is almost entirely misrepresented, in order to create Hollywood “conflict” between Sullenberger and the investigators. Some of the investigators have had their noses out of joint about that. Also, the NTSB’s great divide between professional investigators (who might head something like a Human Factors group, or examine wreckage, etc.) and the figurehead Board Members, who are often lawyers who owe their positions to Washington influence-peddling, is erased, and instead you see an investigation as if it were carried out by gormless lawyers. It culminates in a Perry Mason style trial scene (Hollywood scriptwriters put these in because their Jewish mothers wanted them to be lawyers) at an NTSB public Board Meeting. In actual fact, these public meetings are designed for the political appointees on the board to rubber-stamp in public, the results the professional investigators have written up for them, and there’s never any question about what will happen at the meeting — it has literally been rehearsed.
But that is a small complaint, and it does serve the story line, whereas if the conflict were entirely in Sullenberger’s head, with his very real second-guessing of his own decisions, how could they portray that in a movie that you would like to watch? So the writers externalized the conflict so it could meet the audience expectation of a good guy in a white hat and a bad guy in black.
The bottom line
Sully is a well-produced, well-directed, well-acted story with a likeable all-American hero (two, if you count Eckhart’s Jeff Skiles). It’s a good late-summer fun flick for all ages, and it’s in theaters right now. It will be ignored by the Oscars, unless they choose to pillory it for not making Sullenberger a tranny or something. But go thou, and givest thee thy money to Mr Eastwood, Mr Hanks and their associates, for making an excellent work of entertainment.
For more information
These sites relate to this particular film.
- Amazon.com DVD page
It’s also available to stream for free for Amazon Prime members:
- IMDB page:
- IMFDB page (none)
- Rotten Tomatoes review page (82%):
- Wikipedia page:
- History vs. Hollywood Page.