The backstory is almost as compelling as the landing itself. The subtle message is the airline would rather he tried to save the plane.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which is charged with overseeing airline safety, doesn’t come off very well. In a not-too-veiled reference to 9/11, one aide even says to Sullenberger, “It’s great news about planes falling out of the skies for a change.”
The entire flight lasted only six minutes. Both engines were damaged just after takeoff, when the plane flew through a flock of Canada geese.
Sullenberger had to make a quick decision.
He could try to make it back to the airport, or glide his plane down into the Hudson River. A safe water landing had never been accomplished before.
He chose the water.
The decision was later questioned by authorities, who believed he could have made it back. Of course, if they were wrong, the outcome would have been disastrous.
Instead, all passengers and crew survive. The plane was a total loss.
In a measure of his heroism, Sullenberger stays on board until the end, making sure every passenger has been rescued before saving himself.
The movie starts off in chilling fashion. Hanks, as Sullenberger, is dreaming about what might have been. Sully is seemingly second guessing his decision while clearly dealing with a case of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).
He’s branded an instant hero in the media, yet the crown weighs heavy on him. As his says, his 40-plus-year career in aviation will be judged fully on these six minutes.
Hanks gives one of his best performances ever; he expertly captures the duality of Sully’s situation, basking in unwanted adulation, while dealing with gut-wrenching concerns about whether he did everything he could to avert the crash.
The actual crash scene is the centerpiece of the movie; it’s shown several times. The visuals are simply outstanding; I urge you to sit close to the screen to witness every nuance.
Aaron Eckhart, in a ridiculous but Skiles-accurate mustache, is terrific, too. Shocked at the chain of events following the crash, he rises to the occasion under scrutiny by regulators.
When the NTSB asks him if he would have done anything differently, he quickly says he would have landed in July, instead of the icy January waters.
Through out the movie, “Sully’s” low-key simplicity works in its favor.
Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki (working from Sullenberger’s memoir) have plenty of opportunities to sensationalize both the crash landing and the NTSB investigation that follows.
Instead, they dial down the story to Eastwood’s favorite tempo. The movie is nuanced and thoughtful. It captures the seriousness and the irony of the situation while taking a not-so-subtle dig at bureaucrats who fly desks instead of putting their lives on the line everyday.
“Sully” starts off the schedule of Fall films in fine fashion. It opens tomorrow (Sept. 9). Click Here to see a trailer.