(2016) Biographical Drama (Warner Brothers) Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Jamey Sheridan, Anna Gunn, Valerie Mahaffey, Holt McCallany, Delphi Harrington, Mike O’Malley, Kate Couric, Jeff Kober, Molly Bernard, Chris Bauer, Blake Jones, Jane Gabbert, Molly Hagan, Sam Huntington, Michael Rappaport, Jerry Ferrara, Ann Cusack. Directed by Clint Eastwood
January 15, 2009 was a watershed moment for New York City and all of the United States. On that day, US Airways Flight 1549 took off from LaGuardia Airport in New York City bound for Charlotte, North Carolina. It was in the air for just about three minutes when a flock of Canadian geese flew across their path. Several birds were sucked inside each of the two engines and the aircraft lost thrust from both engines. Without power, they had to glide onto a runway but the pilot didn’t think they would make any nearby airport. He determined their best chance for survival was to to make a controlled water landing on the Hudson River. He did so – without a single loss of life. That incident became known as the Miracle on the Hudson.
The pilot, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Hanks) was hailed as a hero by the popular media and the press. He and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Eckhart) had done the remarkable and saved a plane full of passengers and crew (155 souls in all) from almost certain death. But there were questions, questions the National Transportation Safety Board had about Sully’s decision making. Flight data showed that one of the engines was still turning, indicating that there was sufficient power in the engine to make it back to LaGuardia. Also, computer simulations showed that the plane could have made it back to the airport.
However, Sully knew through 40 plus years of flying that it wasn’t so. Doubting himself, his career and reputation at stake, he knows he will have to confront his accusers with the only things he has to defend himself with – his experience and the truth.
It would seem that the story of Sully Sullenberger would be the perfect fit for Clint Eastwood; after all, he’s one of the finest directors working and the Sullenberger story has that same resonance that Chris Kyle of American Sniper did. However, whereas that film was a character study disguised as an action film, this is more of a disaster film disguised as a character study.
Hanks doesn’t really resemble Sullenberger facially but he’s a good choice for the role. This is in many ways very similar to his Jim Lovell role in Apollo 13 although there are some differences we’ll get into in a bit. Still, it’s a portrait of a calm professional doing what he does best in a moment of crisis, just like the Ron Howard film. Hanks has that quality of calm and cool that he has projected throughout his career and while he is not as well-known for those types of roles, he still excels at them, quietly.
What I was a little bit disappointed about is that we don’t really get that much insight into Sullenberger himself. Much of the movie revolves around the investigation of the crash, and while we get scenes juxtaposing the hero-worship going on in the media and the public (which Sullenberger seems definitely uncomfortable with) and the questioning of his competence at the NTSB hearings, we don’t get a sense of what Sullenberger was thinking very often. He’s a notoriously private man in real life and so he may not have shared a lot of that (I haven’t read the autobiography this is based on, I must confess) for writer Todd Komanicki to work with.
The scenes of the crash which are mostly told in flashback (as well as nightmares that Sully has of the plane crashing into buildings) are for the most part pretty well-told, although to be honest special effects are not Eastwood’s forte. Still, the scenes are serviceable and give the viewer the “you are there” feel that is needed.
Of course, there were more folks in the cast than Hanks. Eckhart is rock solid as the co-pilot. Jamey Sheridan also shines as the head of the NTSB investigation. Laura Linney plays Sullenberger’s wife and sadly, she is depicted mostly on the phone with Sully which really puts some strain on the dynamic between them – you never get a sense of the relationship between them. I think the movie could have used some time with the two face-to-face onscreen.
Eastwood is much too savvy a director to churn out a movie without at least some merit (although Jersey Boys might well be the exception to that rule) but this one is a bit too clinical to be among his best. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a great story and the depiction of those 208 seconds from the time the birds were encountered to the controlled water landing are harrowing and amazing. Any Eastwood movie – even Jersey Boys – is worthwhile viewing. I like Sully well enough but I left it feeling that there could have been more – and should have been.
REASONS TO GO: The performances are terrific particularly among the leads. An inside look at an American hero – and why being a hero isn’t necessarily good news for the hero.
REASONS TO STAY: There’s little insight into Sullenberger himself.
FAMILY VALUES: A little bit of rough language and scenes of plane crash peril.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ferry captain Vincent Lombardi, who was the first on the scene to pick up survivors, plays himself in the movie.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/11/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 82% positive reviews. Metacritic: 74/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Flight
FINAL RATING: 7/10