In a time where we are persistently afflicted with bad news, Sully’s visual and psychological brilliance is an uplifting reminder that sometimes, in remarkable and unprecedented circumstances, the good guy actually wins.
Clint Eastwood delivers a gripping tale based on the events of US Airways Flight 1549’s crash in New York City, 2009. Captain Chesley Sullenberger, or Sully (Tom Hanks) as he is better known, is rattled by media attention after one of the most disastrous moments in his long career. Just minutes after take-off, the plane hits a flock of birds and both of its engines are almost instantaneously lost. Yet despite all odds, Sully manages to save all 155 passengers on board after landing in the Hudson River. Although glorified by friends and family, authorities are relentless in their challenge against his highly unconventional decision.
Given how recently the incidents of the film took place, Eastwood does an excellent job of recapturing the trauma and consciousness felt by pilots and passengers alike during the plane crash. He does this a way that does not simply trivialise the events for the purposes of our entertainment, but in a way that is actually heartfelt, real and physically compelling. The film also touches upon 9/11, asking the audience to remember that the events of Sullenberger’s landing could have been catastrophically different.
For the purposes of building suspense, the film briefly introduces the lives of many different passengers on board the plane. The separate sub-plots for these characters is certainly effective at making the events feel more personal, but at times they are also rather sub textually perplexing. Viewers are hence left wondering if Eastwood’s main directorial intention was to uniquely depict the internal distress of Captain Sully, or instead to simply illustrate an overall picture of the anxiety felt by those affected by a harrowing plane crash.
With its episodic flashback-flash-forward presentation of events, viewers have a unique insight into a circumstance they rarely put thought into: the psyche of a pilot. This is a breath of fresh air from other documentary-style films, which often focus on the sequence of dramatic occurrences behind the incident, rather than the development of the main character’s thought process and the complexities behind their mind set. Moreover, Tom Hanks deserves much recognition for his portrayal of Sully’s inner conflict, which nuances our definition of self-confidence. Hanks creates a blurred line between arrogance and poise, demonstrating how authorities could gradually erode Sullenberger’s strong conviction.
However, for all of its realistic and thought-provoking depictions, Eastwood still managed to provide a piece of film that was both visually stunning and highly entertaining. Viewers are left with a sense that The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSP), who challenge Sully’s decision, are the villains of the story, while Sully and the rescue forces of New York who come to his aid are the heroes. It is therefore highly satisfying to witness the authorities being proven wrong, and to see the good guy’s self-confidence quickly revitalised. Of course, the reality of the situation is that the NTSP is simply doing its job, but as a large corporal band of bureaucrats, who are more invested in self-preservation than with compassion, the audience is relieved when Sully’s decision is proven to be justified.
Sully’s greatest strength is that it plays on a plot which is deceptively complex. On its surface, it is a simple story of a plane crashing into a river, but at its core, Sully is an ideologically nuanced, emotionally charged and uplifting exploration of the human condition. This is definitely a film worth watching … just not on a plane!