The Hippo


Jun 2, 2020









Sully (PG-13)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

By Amy Diaz

 Tom Hanks plays the airline pilot who landed a passenger plane in the Hudson River after it lost its engines in Sully, probably the best possible movie that could be made from this subject and released at roughly this moment in history.

Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks, because of course) is having nightmares and trouble sleeping in the days after he is forced to make an emergency landing on Jan. 15, 2009. He and co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) have just taken off when their plane runs into a flock of birds, resulting in the loss of both engines. Unable to make it back to LaGuardia, or ultimately any other area airport, Sullenberger brings the plane down on the Hudson River, the only flat, people- and building-free surface available. Despite the water being just above freezing and the air temperature considerably below, all of the crew and passengers — babies, older people, people who get separated from loved ones, people who are injured or plunged for several minutes into the water — survive.
Sully is relieved when he hears this but quickly he becomes plagued by something else: the thought that he made the wrong decision. The National Transportation Safety Board begins an investigation almost immediately and almost immediately they claim he could have made it back to an airport. Sully insists to them that he made the only decision that offered any hope for survival but board members (Mike O’Malley, Jamey Sheridan, Anna Gunn) tell him that computer models and early information about the damage to the plane suggest differently. Privately, Sully agonizes with his wife, Lorraine (Laura Linney), over whether he indeed did make the right choice.
Despite knowing about this event and how it turned out, despite the movie itself basically “spoiling” the event’s outcome in its earliest scenes, I found Sully a very tense and even somewhat emotional movie to sit through. Part of this is that the crash is depicted a couple of times from a couple of perspectives and all of those scenes put you there, in the cockpit or with the passengers or watching the radar as the air traffic controller hears the pilot in distress and then watches the signal disappear. The movie does a very good job of allowing you to imagine how you’d feel in each circumstance. 
But the other reason for the tension is, I think, that we’ve seen these scenes before and we are not conditioned to expect a good outcome for an airplane in distress in New York City. Which is to say that, indirectly perhaps, Sully is also a 9/11 movie. Fifteen years ago, people did their jobs competently and with dedication, helped their fellow man and endured a great tragedy. In January 2009, a little less than seven and a half years later and a little more than seven and a half years ago, people did their jobs competently and with dedication and helped their fellow man — and everybody lived. In the movie, people hug Sully, the guys at the bar cheer him on, everybody calls him hero. You get the sense — at least I do, and I’ll bet many viewers old enough to have a full memory of 2001 and the mood of the country would too — that these hugs and handshakes and cheers are a kind of relief, a “finally, some good news” to make up for the time when many of the heroes and the people they tried to save didn’t make it. (Add the economic situation of early 2009 to this and you can understand why “relief” seems like the primary emotion of this movie.)
How much of this is in the movie and how much of this is just what I’m reading into it? The movie makes a few indirect references to Sept. 11, which suggests to me that it (and director Clint Eastwood) knows what it’s doing. But who’s to say? I guess in a few decades I can watch this movie in my living room holodeck with my children, who were born long after 9/11, and see what they think. 
Ultimately what I find winning about this movie are the scenes of people — not just Sullenberger but also the flight attendants, the water rescue crew, the various boats that head out to help the airplane, the passengers themselves — doing their job, doing it competently and taking care of each other. For me, the most chill-inducing moments of the film are when we hear the flight attendants repeating, in unison, the instructions to the passengers for how to brace for impact. Something about people leaning on their training to get through a crisis — it’s scary and yet at the same time strangely optimistic. 
Sully is basically a movie about, as Sully says, 208 seconds, which is something of a narrative challenge that the story, for the most part, works with well. We do get the varying views of the central event. And the tale of the investigation (and what a poor outcome could have meant for Sullenberger and his family) adds enough of an element of the unknown (or, at least, was a part of the story I didn’t know about) to give the movie some drama and the characters something to do to keep them from being one-dimensional. 
Though all the actors do solid work here, it is of course Hanks on whom the movie rests and, as in Bridge of Spies and Captain Phillips, Hanks does a very good job of making a heroic figure a human being without diminishing his heroics. Sully isn’t necessarily a fun movie to watch but it is an engrossing one that leaves you with a general sense of optimism about the abilities of everyday people to rise to an occasion. B
Rated PG-13 for some peril and brief strong language. Directed by Clint Eastwood with a screenplay by Todd Komarnicki (based on the book Highest Duty by Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow), Sully is an hour and 36 minutes long and distributed by Warner Bros. 


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