My Rating: 8 out of 10
The best single word that I can use to describe Sully is lean. The movie was shorter than most with a total time of only 96 minutes, but in that amount of time the filmmakers were able to do so much. Sully is the sort of movie that relies less on the twists and turns of its plot and more on the emotional impact that it can elicit in its audience. Anyone familiar with 2009’s “miracle on the Hudson” knows that Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger is a pilot who had to land his plane in the Hudson River in order to save the passengers and nearby residents. Due to the improbability of everyone surviving a water landing, Sully was seen as a hero after the incident and still is to this day. While the film is largely about the much lesser known investigation into Sully by the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) after the incident, we know that the outcome will be a positive one due to the real life Sully being seen as a hero and not a reckless pilot who unnecessary endangered the lives of his passengers.
So, without relying on plot surprises, Sully has to find a way to engage its audience with tension and emotion, which it does excellently. The beauty of the films small scale is that we are able to get very close to the character of Sully (played by Tom Hanks). We get to see things that the public definitely would not have been able to during the action incident, such as Sully’s conversations with his wife (played by Laura Linnie) and copilot, Jeff Skiles (played by Aaron Eckhart). On top of this, there are a few instances where the filmmakers show us Sully imagining what would have happened if the plane had crashed into a residential area. These scenes are horrific due to that they represent, but also get us into Sully’s head even more and allow us to understand the incredible amount of pressure that he is under. This stress causes him to doubt himself, which plays into how we feel about the events we are seeing, despite knowing that things will turn out all right in the end.
The two most crucial moments for the filmmakers to present are the results of the investigation against Sully and the actual landing on the Hudson. Both of which were handled spectacularly in my opinion. I particularly liked how the crash was shown to us multiple times throughout the movie from different perspectives that allowed us to see how all the different people on board handled the situation. Only at the end were we able to see the perspective from the cockpit, which was presented during the final meeting of the investigation in which everyone had to listen to the tapes. This allowed the movie to culminate in a scene that incorporated the most intense version of the water landing with Sully’s realization that he had done the right thing and prove it to the investigators. Every time we saw a version of the water landing, our opinion of the incident was altered not so much by the perspectives we were seeing it from, but by Sully’s belief in himself during different parts of the investigation. When he doubts his choice, we wonder if he could have made it back to the airport, but when he finally regains his confidence at the end, we see the landing for the amazing feat that it was.
The public sees Sully as a great hero who knew precisely what to do and when to do it, but the reality is that he was a responsible man with lots of experience who did his job even under the most difficult of circumstances. Sully himself said that he didn’t feel like a hero during one of his interviews with the news. While most people, including myself, would disagree with the notion that Sully is not a hero, the movie makes it clear that there was not one single hero that made the “miracle on the Hudson” possible, but it was the combined effort of all the people aboard the plane as well as the rescue workers and others. Part of the beauty of Sully’s story is that, while he wasn’t just an average guy, he did have the same sort of basic worries that all the rest of us have, such as trying to make enough money. What set Sully apart wasn’t any sort of skill that makes him better than anyone else, but the fact that he took pride in his work and honed his skills over decades made him capable of reacting in such a tight situation.
Despite the intensity of the film and the underlying understanding of what could have happened if things had gone wrong, I left the theatre feeling positive. Knowing that there are captains like Sully who take great pride in their work makes me feel shockingly more comfortable with flying. Also, its good to see a film about something where everything went right and the public and media reacting so positively about the incident from the onset. At first, the film made me think of 2012’s Flight, except based on a real incident and with a pilot that is far more responsible. As the movie progressed, I saw that it was better than Flight both in its positive outlook and its ability to boil down the story to its essentials instead of dragging things out unnecessarily. While 2009 wasn’t all that long ago, it feels almost like another era compared to how negative things have become in recent years, both on the news and in entertainment. Even the NTSB investigators, who are presented as the antagonists of the film, were not maniacal or ill-intentioned, but instead came off as overzealous and a bit unrealistic. Though I have a feeling that they were probably the least realistic of all the characters since they needed to be presented in a certain light for the movie to work.
Overall, Sully was an incredible film that I highly recommend seeing in theaters if possible. The acting was phenomenal, especially from Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart (whose portrayal of copilot Skiles was hilarious and charismatic). The effects were also spectacular to the point that it literally looked like they were crashing a plane into the Hudson River in order to get the proper effect. I was unsure about the length of the film at first, but I now see it as an asset to the tight storyline. Though I do wish that there had been a bit more of the scenes that delved into Sully’s past. In the end, Sully is far more like Gravity than Flight, in that it presents you with a lot of intensity and uncertainty, but leaves you feeling uplifted and hopeful.