You know his name: Captain Sully became a celebrity and a hero when he made a successfully landed a passenger jet in the Hudson river after losing both engines shortly after takeoff. The passengers, the media, and then the world, praised him for his quick thinking and skill. His maneuver saved every soul on board. It was quickly labelled “The Miracle on the Hudson.” He made the rounds of late night talk shows, smiling politely as hosts feted him, but that smile was a facade.
What few of us realized at the time was that Captain Sullenberger and co-pilot Jeff Skiles were going through private hell. While dealing with crippling flashbacks, they were basically put on trial by the National Transportation Safety Board, accused of making the wrong decision and endangering a plane full of passengers.
Sully, with 40 years of experience, knew in his gut that going into the river was the best option. The NTSB, however, maintain that computer simulations prove he could have made it back to La Guardia for a safe landing on an actual strip. All the people thrown into frigid waters, the cold and frightened babies, the weakened-heart old ladies, could all have been spared a terrifying crash-landing. Should Sully be held responsible for his actions?
Tom Hanks as Sully is spectacular. He deftly portrays a crumbling man, one whose confidence is badly shaken, who can’t escape the mental replaying of the incident, the assessment of the choices he made, effectively putting 155 lives on the line, his own included. Aaron Eckhart plays Skiles, the right-hand man with an equally formidable mustache (what is it with pilots and mustaches?). Laura Linney has is relegated to an even smaller part, as the wife on the other end of a telephone. Both are fine, but this is clearly Hanks’ show, and Sully’s story. He’s the one not just with his reputation on the line, but his career and pension and ability to support his family in flux too.
Director Clint Eastwood plays it safe; in fact he even downplays what must have been a petrifying few minutes for the other 153 on board. What he may not have accounted for is how jarring Sully’s day-mares are to an audience, post 9-11 (and keeping in mind the movie hit theatres for its 15th anniversary). Sully keeps imagining that his plane is zipping through New York City’s skyline, missing and not missing buildings along the way. It hurts.
Where Eastwood excels, and always has, is in hero-worshiping, and Sully’s an easy target. Humble, grateful, stoic: just the kind of man that appeals to old Clint. But Sully’s not the only hero I see here. The flight attendants are brave. The air traffic controller is determined. Rescue workers are quick. Ordinary citizens lend a hand. Heroes come in lots of shapes and sizes. Not all wear uniforms. Maybe Clint should make a movie about one of them sometime.