Movie Review: Sully

Starring: Tom Hanks & Aaron Eckhart

Directed by: Clint Eastwood

The saga of how US Airways Captain Chesley Sullenberger was miraculously able to use the Hudson River as an emergency runway after his aircraft lost use of both of its engines because of a bird strike moments after taking off from LaGuardia Airport on the afternoon of January 15, 2009 is very well known. Sully was universally hailed as a hero all over the nation but he was, and still is, understandably lionized right here in New York.

Director Clint Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki clearly realize this because in their new film, “Sully,” the emphasis is on a part of the story that did not get a lot of play in the media; namely the National Transportation Safety Board’s inquiry into what happened. While the public and media were hailing Sullenberger as a hero, the folks heading the NTSB investigation made it clear that it was very possible that the pilot used poor judgment by not proceeding back to LaGuardia Airport. He might have acted recklessly by turning the jet into a hydroplane in harsh winter conditions to boot.

In the early moments of the film we see Captain Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) worrying if his best judgment under literal life-and-death pressure may have been faulty. He has nightmares of Flight 1459 winding up like the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center fifteen years as well as the media and public turning their adulation into vitriol if the NTSB were to issue a less than laudatory report. Happily for Sully his first officer, the cheerful Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), never wavers in his support of his decision-making and is not shy about letting the NTSB know that.

Tom Hanks’ portrayal of Sullenberger is very much similar to the title character he played in “Captain Phillips.” Once again Hanks’ protagonist is a quiet man of few words who is not looking for glory and places the needs of others ahead of his own. We learn about the kind of man Sully is not so much by his heroics at landing the very damaged jet but rather in his insistence of making sure that every one of the 155 people on board are accounted for and safe.

As a director, Clint Eastwood has proven to be a master of choosing the right actors for the supporting roles and for getting the little details right. Jamey Sheridan, Michael O’Malley, and Anna Gunn are superb as the triumvirate running the NTSB inquiry. The film nicely shies away from painting them as cartoon villains but rather as no-nonsense types whose thankless job is to discover the truth about what could have and should have been done. It’s not giving much away to say that they get a total appreciation of America’s hero by the end of the film.

Veteran New York character actor Michael Rapaport provides necessary comic relief as a bartender who is ecstatic when Sully wanders into his watering hole. After vigorously shaking his hand, he tells him “We named a drink after you. It’s called The Sully—Grey Goose with a splash of water!”

Other nice New York touches are the employment of Channel 2 news anchor Kristine Johnson and longtime New York 1 reporter Bobby Cuza in cameos. Eastwood also makes good use of all parts of Manhattan as well as the LaGuardia Airport main terminal and the nearby Courtyard by Marriott on Ditmars Boulevard.

“Sully” is not totally flawless. Talented actress Laura Linney has relatively little to do here except to get on the phone and express worry to Sully as his wife, Lorrie, who remains at their Northern California home.

The fateful 208 seconds of Flight 1459 is showed numerous times in a teasing manner that we are drained by the time it is shown in its entirety here even though the crew and passengers were heroic. Unlike countless other air disaster movies and TV shoes, the screaming was fairly minimal.

Nonetheless, those are minor quibbles. “Sully” is a very worthwhile cinematic experience and at a taut 96 minutes you will never be looking at your watch.

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