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Airplane On The Hudson: Sully

Updated on October 6, 2018


Sully tells the tale of an act of quick thinking that saved the lives of all aboard an airplane. Set primarily in January 2009, Tom Hanks stars as Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, a career pilot who experienced problems moments after his Charlotte-bound flight left LaGuardia Airport. His plane loses both engines after encountering a flock of birds. Fearing he cannot make it back to LaGuardia or another airport nearby, he and co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) maneuver their jet into the Hudson River. Sully himself makes sure all 155 people on the plane have exited his craft as boats surround the plane and get all to safety.

While Sully and the other members of the crew make the TV rounds, the National Transportation Safety Board has some hard questions for Sully. Lead Investigator Charles Porter (Mike O'Malley) presents evidence that suggests that one of the engines had enough power to get them to an airport. Both Sully and Skiles dispute that assertion. Sully keeps in touch with his wife Lorraine (Laura Linney) by phone to speak his piece, and learns that the media have descended on the house as well. At an NTSB hearing, Sully once again challenges the belief that he could have avoided a water landing. He wants the pilots who simulate the flight conditions to react as of they were in the moment in the cockpit.


Sully is based on Sullenberger's autobiography, Highest Duty: My Search For What Really Matters, which he wrote with the late Jeffrey Zaslow. Clint Eastwood directs in his usual simple and straightforward fashion, capably putting viewers in the moment. Most of the movie takes place during the week following the crash as the NTSB looks into the matter of Flight 1549. The only exceptions are a couple of flashback scenes that show how flight has played such a big part of Sullenberger's life. Another element familiar to Eastwood's work appears with his cynical - and somewhat overdone - look at the NTSB's scrutiny of Sullenberger, and the Board's insistence that the pilots could have made their way to an airport. Most of us remember what happened, and know that Sullenberger received the attention he deserved. Eastwood does just the same.

Hanks delivers a quiet and moving performance as Sully as he goes through many emotions. He certainly knows he did well by his passengers, his crew, and himself, but he also has nightmares about the things that could have happened. He has a sad and humble look as he reflects and speaks about the water landing he made. Behind the outward appearance is a man determined to stick by his beliefs that both engines failed following the bird strike. He wants to get back behind the controls as soon as he can continue to do what he loves. Eckhart also performs well as Skiles, an unwavering supporter of Sully's version of events. My favorite scene of his comes when he tells the NTSB if they had to have this problem again, he'd prefer that it happen in July. Linney does fine work as the worried Lorraine, who can sense her husband's concerns from many miles away. Viewers who hang around during the credits get the movie's best moment as Sully, his wife, crew, and many flight survivors have a happy reunion.


Many of Eastwood's best films have come during the period since he did his last cop movie, Blood Work, in 2002. In most of them, he has taken a hard look at values and justice, and sometimes exposes hard truths about the things that matter the most. Sully isn't in the pantheon of Unforgiven, Mystic River, and Flags Of Our Fathers, but Eastwood still delivers a message about values and the actions that matter the most. Chesley Sullenberger took the steps necessary to avoid a catastrophe, and any look at Flight 1549 should see those actions as heroic, without question. It's one thing to try and understand the problems that forced a jet to land in the Hudson River, but it's another issue altogether to question the man who had to make a very quick decision. That decision may well have meant the difference between life and death.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Sully 3.5 stars. A captain lives his highest duty.

Sully trailer

© 2016 Pat Mills


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