The Miracle on the Hudson

Tom Hanks stars as ‘Sully,’ the hero of Flight 1549

Sep. 9, 2016
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To the public he was a hero but the “experts” began to second-guess his split-second decision. Starring Tom Hanks as the pilot who saved his passengers and crew when he brought a crippled airliner down on the Hudson River, Sully is a compelling dramatization of Flight 1549’s perilous descent, the ensuing media spectacle, the National Transportation and Safety Board investigation and the pilot who snatched a miracle from almost certain disaster.

Hanks is cast appropriately yet transcends his familiar role as a stalwart American everyman by burrowing deeply into the character of Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. His hair gray and his brow furrowed, Sully is uncomfortable sitting before cameras and just wants the hoopla to end. He is a modest man who shrugs when passengers and reporters call him “hero.” In his mind, he was simply doing his job, albeit under unusually difficult circumstances. The other word used often in connection with his soft landing on the Hudson was “miracle.” It stuck, given the paucity of other safe touchdowns on water by jetliners with disabled engines.

Although the descent of Flight 1549 after it struck a flock of geese is depicted several times, including the nightmare from which Sully awakens in the opening scene, the bulk of the film concerns what happens next, especially the increasingly hostile investigation by a panel accusing Sully and his first officer, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), of endangering their passengers by refusing to try for LaGuardia or Newark. They based their charge of recklessness on computer simulations and faulty flight recorder data, doubting the judgment of a 40-year veteran who had actually handled the two-engine Airbus many times and understood the machinery and timing. The algorithms said one thing, but Sully held his ground. He was there, in real time.

Director Clint Eastwood filmed Sully with IMAX cameras, an unnecessary use of technology given that the landing on the Hudson, with water streaming into the cabin and passengers scrambling for life rafts or the wings, was handled impressively and would have looked vivid without IMAX. At any rate, most of Sully is drawn from the pilot’s memoir, Highest Duty, and consists of conversations between Sully and Skiles, the pilots and the investigators, and Sully with his wife Lorraine (Laura Linney). The back story is handled efficiently and without fuss. Sully has too little money and too many mortgages and an otherwise happy family. He plans to retire from flying and become a consultant—if he isn’t stripped of his pension and license as a result of the investigation.

As dramatized by Hanks, Sully was a captain prepared to go down with his ship if it meant saving lives, and ready to try an impossible landing if it meant sparring New York the loss of another set of towers. He had seconds to chose: Manhattan or the river. The nearest airport was minutes out of reach.




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