Alas Pixar devotees, Sully is not a surely long-awaited spinoff to Monsters, Inc. In fact, this is Clint Eastwood’s attempt at documenting an unprecedented event, now dubbed the “miracle on the Hudson” by a savvy marketing team at Warner Bros. Pictures. The film’s full title may seem a little weak, but the fact remains that this was a miracle. Based upon the autobiography Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters (by Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow), Sully recounts the events of January 15th 2009, when US Airways pilots Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) boarded Flight 1549, which was supposed to fly from LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
Approximately three minutes into the flight, the plane was bombarded by a flock of Canada geese which disabled both available engines. Faced with a distinct lack of time and very few options, Sully decided to land the plane onto the ice-cold waters of the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 passengers aboard the plane, and was subsequently hailed a hero. Yet, an investigation enfolded which threatened to not only destroy his reputation, but also his career.
The marketing material behind Sully labels the film as “the untold story”, yet I don’t quite think that I can agree with that statement. The story of Chesley Sullenberger was in fact widely reported within the news upon the incident in 2009. Since then, Sullenberger has been frequently referenced within popular culture. Most notably, French electronica artist College wrote the song “A Real Hero” as a dedication to the work of Sullenberger, which is immortalised within Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive.
If Sully isn’t an untold story, then what is it? On the one hand it is similar to a basic historical enactment, with the bonus of Tom Hanks at its helm. But on the other, it is an intriguing glimpse at a person who is faced with seemingly insurmountable odds.
Written by Todd Komarnicki and directed by Hollywood veteran Clint Eastwood, Sully hones in upon the idea of heroism (a regular motif within Eastwood’s directorial career), PTSD and the unseen effects that they have upon individuals. Frequently, the medium of film portrays the term ‘hero’ as a desirable title, yet within Sully it is a burden that Sullenberger himself does not care for. The fame frequently places a barrier between himself and his family, whilst Sullenberger is plagued by questions from the press and an ongoing investigation which pontificate whether he made the right decision or not, which sees him playing out alternate scenarios within his head in which planes ultimately fly into buildings. In lesser acting-hands, Sully may not have been as dramatically potent, yet it is Hanks’s transformative role which truly allows audiences to experience what Sullenberger was wrestling with behind the various television interviews and public appearances. It is the reserved nature of Hanks performance which accentuates the stress that the character is experiencing, yet allows Sullenberger’s sharp intelligence to shine through within various courtroom sequences.
Despite the focus of the film being mostly dedicated to its titular character, Komarnicki also places his focus upon the talented men and women who came together in such a dire situation, to help others before themselves. Without directly praising the rescue workers or employees within US Airways, the film’s screenplay simply presents them as professionals on paper, yet ordinary people who when needed, banded together to save lives. It is the actions of those people which actually speak for themselves. Less can be said for the negative representation of the National Transportation Safety Board, who are immediately depicted as antagonistic. Numerous sources have attested to the fact that they were not setting out to destroy a person’s career, but determine what exactly happened, by carrying out a thorough investigation.
If Sully reminds you of 2013’s Flight, don’t despair. For Eastwood’s partnership of visually spectacular aerial sequences and authentic humanity deliver a narrative which is far more concerned with the aftermath of a miracle, and the effects upon its characters which are so rarely documented upon film. And at a time in which many people may believe that selflessness is a thing of the past, Sully simply reinforces the case that when ordinary people work together, the impossible can be achieved. The film may not be thrilling, but it sure is interesting.
Sully is out 2nd Dec