‘Sully’ soars and crashes at the same time

Tom Hanks in ‘Sully’

True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.  – Arthur Ashe

“Andrew Beckett” (based on real person Geoffrey Bowers)

Jim Lovell

“Carl Hanratty” (based on real person FBI Special Agent Joseph Shea)

Captain Richard Phillips

Walt Disney

James B. Donovan

That is a list of performances in feature films where Tom Hanks portrayed real people, or characters based on real people.  It is something he does extremely well (like just about any other performance from the two-time Oscar winner).  Now he is portraying an American hero, Chesley (Sully) Sullenberger in Sully, the new film from director Clint Eastwood.

Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart in ‘Sully’

Unless you’ve been asleep since January 15, 2009, you should be familiar with the man this film is named after.  On that day he was piloting an Airbus A-320 from LaGuardia Airport in NYC.  Its destination was Charlotte, NC but roughly three minutes into flight, the aircraft suffered multiple bird strikes  Power was lost in both of the planes’  CFM56-5B4/P turbofan engines.  Less than three minutes later, Captain Sullenberger landed the plane on the Huston River.  All 155 people aboard survived.

The movie is biographical in nature but focuses almost entirely on the flight and its aftermath.  It is based on Captain Sullenberger’s autobiography  Highest Duty which he wrote with Jeffrey Zaslow.  It is now on bookshelves with a new title, Sully.  We do see a representation of Captain Sullenberger’s early days in the cockpit when he was flying F-4 Phantoms for the U. S. Air Force.  We also discover he learned to fly before going off to the Air Force Academy (his Academy ring is visible in a number of shots).

Captain Sullenberger and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) are hauled before a National Transportation Safety Board (Jamey Sheridan, Anna Gunn and Mike O’Malley.  They are portraying the real investigators but they have fictional character names).  They seem intent on blaming Captain Sullenberger for ditching the plane in the Hudson while he insists that there were no alternatives that wouldn’t result in a crash.  Captain Sullenberger sets out to prove that he and Jeff Skiles got it right.

Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart in an NTSB Investigation scene in ‘Sully’

What the real Sully called a  “forced water-landing” are easily the best moments in the movie.  Eastwood uses flashbacks and dream sequences in a somewhat linear structure that does not enhance the telling of the story.  The acting is very good, with Hanks shining in the titular role.  Aaron Eckhart is as reliable as Yellowstone’s Old Faithful when it comes to giving a solid turn.  The talented Laura Linney portrays Lorraine Sullenberger, Sully’s wife but the storyline involving their relationship goes nowhere.

The biggest controversy surrounding this film is the depiction of the NTSB investigation as being adversarial and attempting to place the blame on Captain Sullenberger for failing to try to return to LaGuardia, or attempting to land at nearby airports in New Jersey.  As the actual investigation report clearly states, and as the actual investigators point out, they were simply seeking to discover the truth about what had happened.  The movie claims a very different result regarding computer simulations done to determine if there was a chance that the plane could have made it to an airport.

The story of Captain Sullenberger and Flight 1549 was dramatic enough without creation of controversy through poetic license.

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