‘I’ ON CULTURE
In a time when superhero movies dominate, we often ignore real heroes. Clint Eastwood’s new film Sully, a salute to Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who successfully faced up to a major crisis and then had to face an inquisition for his action, remedies this lack. It is an excellent, if occasionally slow, film about heroes and the public’s reaction to them.
Sully (Tom Hanks), a pilot with 40 years’ experience, faced a crisis about six minutes into a flight from LaGuardia Airport in New York. His plane had flown through a flock of birds, and both engines were knocked out about 2,800 feet in the air. Sully made the almost instant decision that the only place safe to land was on the Hudson River.
Less than a half-hour later, he and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) had crash-landed the plane safely in the river and supervised the safe evacuation of all 150 passengers and five crew members. The decision and the landing were depicted in a brilliant bit of cinema ended by two wonderful set pieces. The first was a simple scene of Sully walking through the now-crashed plane, making certain no one was left behind. And beyond that, the hysteria on the river and heroism of New York’s Harbor Police was brilliant.
Sully, and to a far lesser degree Skiles, became an instant hero. Heroism is often quickly rewarded. However, the media trumpeted demands for a complete investigation, and the government gave them what they wanted. Eastwood clearly identifies the villains, and they work for the government. The investigators, the real ones, have protested the view of them in the movie, saying they were just doing their jobs. In the end, Sully and Skiles were cleared of all possible blame and their heroism was officially and indelibly recognized.
The problem with a film like this is that since the act of heroism was relatively brief, it had to focus on a lot of other things. We experience a lot of Sully’s early life, as well as his nightmares, a key one of which before the crash is having his plane collide with a New York skyscraper. Sully’s discomfort in having to face up to accusers takes up more of the film than the actual crash. But this is a drama, and the climax by its nature takes place at the beginning.
Hanks gives a superb performance, one that may well get recognition at Oscar time. He manages to avoid turning his character into a plaster saint, something that would be easy to do in a case like this. His Sully is a real person, with as much self-doubt as anyone. Watching him suffer from bouts of post-traumatic stress disorder was painful, since we know he was a hero, and in the movie at least, the investigators care little for the damage they cause, much of it through delays.
Laura Linney gives another really good performance as Sully’s wife, Lorraine. Although much of her part is providing support by phone, she turns Lorrie into a real person, one whose actions and love are also acts of heroism. Eckhart is strong as Skiles. Jamey Sheridan and Anna Gunn acquit themselves well in representing the investigators.
There is a wonderful coda to the film. Some of the actual surviving passengers speak of the crisis, and the real Sullenberger joins in. There are far too few real heroes, and in a time when we tend to hear from victims, this was a real treat.
Eastwood’s direction was very businesslike. He used special effects the right way — when they were needed rather than as an excuse to play games. I actually felt that I was experiencing those horrific six minutes as it went on. Todd Komarnicki’s script is workmanlike but not brilliant.
One of the most obvious points of the film is that our media and government no longer are willing to accept heroism uncritically. It took 18 months of investigation before they accepted Sully as a hero. It took the rest of us a lot less time.
This is a really solid film, the kind we used to expect from Hollywood. I thought it was a worthwhile film, and I predict you will like it as well.