Film Review: “Sully”

Andrew White Cleary, Chief Copy Editor

On Jan. 15, 2009, airline captain Chesley Sullenberger performed an emergency water landing of US Airways Flight 1549 following a bird strike that rendered both engines of the plane futile. Later referred to as the “Miracle on the Hudson” in the media, Sullenberger’s landing was instantly hailed as heroic. Throughout the federal accident investigation, however, the reception to it was not necessarily as cut and dried. “Sully,” a biographical drama directed by Clint Eastwood (“Unforgiven,” “Million Dollar Baby”), is not among the director’s greatest works but nevertheless retells these events well and with unpretentiousness.

Tom Hanks (“Forrest Gump,” “Saving Private Ryan”) takes the lead role, and is one reason for the film’s success. His performance is an unsurprisingly strong one, effectively capturing both the intelligence and modesty of the part. His character at one point enters a New York bar, and can only react humbly when told that a drink was named after him the day the landing occurred. Here Sullenberger is gallant yet approachable, at once a convincing heroic figure and a modest man.

“Sully” is also not simply a film about a man who saves the day, as it avoids a generic biopic narrative through the combination of sequences of the central flight with the National Transportation Safety Administration (NTSA) proceedings. The controversy caused by Sullenberger’s landing on the Hudson River, in fact, allows for further character development while adding hints of tension. Lesser films concerning the “Miracle on the Hudson” may have simply depicted it like a generic blockbuster, using irritating shaky-camera shots and bombastic musical scoring to imbue the landing sequences with an artificial bravado. The simple image of Flight 1549 facing the camera, having landed in the water, with rows of surviving passengers on pathways protruding from the left and right, speaks far louder. Eastwood’s work is a character piece; he aims not to focus on Sullenberger simply when he is thousands of feet in the air but also when he is on the ground, talking with others, like the rest of the world.

“Sully” is a work which is as modest as its main character. And perhaps it is best.