Sully (2016)

A review by Nalini Haynes

In 2009 a flock of birds struck a US Airlines plane, destroying both engines. Without propulsion, the plane was going down fast. Captain Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) — Sully — landed that beast in the Hudson River. Sully the movie tells that story and the story of the aftermath where the airline company tried to pin the fault onto Sully.

Opening with images of the plane coming down then crashing into buildings in the city, Sully starts after the event then backtracks, showing the plane coming down from a few angles with increasing detail. US Airlines and its insurance company claimed that the left engine was still operable and Sully screwed up, endangering lives and destroying company property.

They tried to gloss over the fact that they couldn’t find the damn engine.

Like with Apollo 13, Sully takes an event in the zeitgeist and imbues tension into the story, keeping the viewer riveted. Although I already knew the bare facts, I found the story compelling. It’s not just the drama of the crash and trying to get everyone out alive, it’s the human cost of doing something unprecedented only for people to tear him down.

As a short movie, Sully doesn’t dwell on the legal technicalities, what the captain endured during the investigation nor how difficult it was to force investigators to reveal the truth. Viewers could be misled into believing that the entire story took place over a few days or weeks. This is both a strength and a weakness of the story because the movie is short, sharp and shiny, appealing to a broader audience than would a detailed exposé.

However, the fact that the airline immediately went after everyone concerned — the air traffic controller, the pilot and co-pilot — claiming employee wrong-doing in an attempt to divest itself of liability, makes Sully a David-vs-Goliath story. It’s in the details like how they claimed the left engine was still running after the bird-strike although they couldn’t find it (or wouldn’t admit to having it) and how the computer simulations and live-pilot simulations all showed Sully could have landed the plane at an airport — if he’d turned the plane around after the bird-strike without taking any time for assessment, decision-making or trying to restart the engines. I was gnashing my teeth on the pilots’ behalfs.

Clint Eastwood directed Sully; although not as earth-shattering as Gran Torino, he’s done an excellent job creating a movie appealing to the masses while telling a significant historical event.

Sully is an excellent dramatisation of the events of January 14, 2009, and a great story to watch. Highly recommended.

PS The minion says it’s nice to see Aaron Eckhart can actually act: he was Sully’s co-pilot.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writers: Todd Komarnicki, Chesley Sullenberger, Jeffrey Zaslow
Stars: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney
Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes

Sully