Sully a reluctant hero

On Jan.15, 2009, New Yorkers and people around the world were riveted to their television sets as a drama involving an aircraft in New York City unfolded.

US Air flight 1549, a fully loaded Airbus A320 passenger plane with 155 people on board, made an unprecedented emergency water landing in the Hudson River.

At only 2,800 feet, both engines had been incapacitated when the plane flew into a large flock of Canada geese.

Quick and creative thinking by the pilot saved all 155 people. Veteran pilot Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger reluctantly became a national hero in what became known as The Miracle On The Hudson.

In a film that feels more like a documentary than a Hollywood film, Sully marches forward in a straight line from beginning to its inevitable and well-known end.

Based on Sullenberger’s biography The Highest Duty, there is surprisingly little information about the man or the series of events that lead to the dramatic water landing although we do get to witness it three times in this movie.

So how does one build suspense in a film where the entire event lasted 208 seconds and everyone already knows the happy outcome?

Director Clint Eastwood has chosen an old convention — that of nightmares, and Sully is plagued by them.

The film begins with a disastrous version of the same flight and ends with the plane crashing into city buildings.

The cinematography is realistic and brings back too real memories of that terrible day in September, 2001 when planes crashed into the World Trade Centre buildings.

Fortunately, it was just a dream as Sully awakens in his hotel room in Manhattan post-incident.

No film is complete without a villain and for this story where all players acted their roles properly, Eastwood needed to invent one, so he chose to use the insurance companies and the NTSB (National Transit Safety Board).

From this point, the main conflict in the film comes from the NTSB’s witch hunt as they attempt to vilify the hero pilot.

Insinuations that he could have made it back to an airport instead of landing the plane in the river become accusations.

Much of the action takes place in bleak, little interrogation rooms with the final climax of the film taking place in a full-scale public hearing where Sully is exonerated.

The investigation leaves Sully riddled with guilt and questioning his  expertise and memory of the events.

Sully is a humble and honourable man who does not believe he’s a hero. He is career pilot with more than 40 years of service, but, as he says, although he has safely delivered over a million people to their destinations, his career will be judged on 208 seconds.

Tom Hanks plays Sully with stoic simplicity. We have no doubt that Sully is is fully competent and cares about his co-workers and his passengers.

With no care for his own safety, he is the last person to leave the plane, rushing through one last water-logged time to ensure everyone got out safely.

It would have been nice to get a deeper insight into Sully as a person. We know little about him save for two flashbacks about him flying.

We know that he likes to run and that he’s a man who loves his family; while very fine qualities, it doesn’t exactly make for riveting filmmaking.

Aaron Eckhart (London Has Fallen, Olympus Has Fallen) was a great casting choice for co-pilot Jeff Skiles. Where Sully is serious, Skiles is warmer and more personable.

It is clear that he has the utmost respect for his pilot in and out of the cockpit. Skiles is charming and quick witted, providing some of the only comedy dialogue in the film:

Charles Porter: "Mr. Skiles, is there anything you would have done differently?" 

Skiles: "Yes, do it in July."

Laura Linney (The Big C, The Truman Show) is an excellent actress who plays Sully’s wife, Lorraine.

It is unfortunate that we never see the two actors together as all of their interaction is done by phone.

It is also unfortunate that she is given so little to do in this film aside from lending support to her husband as media crowds her own doorway.

A dramatic highlight is when she tearfully tells him she just realized that 155 people almost died and he was one of them.

Another emotional highlight is the rescuing of the passengers. As the ferry boats raced in frigid weather to collect the terrified people, we are acutely aware of our fragility in this life experience and how we need to rely on each other.

The rescue took only 24 minutes due to the close proximity of so many ferry boats and coast guard vessels.

What makes good stories great is the delving into the human relationships behind the events and unfortunately, we get very little of this in Sully.

There is little human weakness or vulnerability in the main characters and we come out of the theatre feeling  we don’t really know any more about the pilot than we knew in the beginning.

Perhaps Sully wanted to protect his family’s privacy, but a little conflict or background information would have rounded out the film better.

Eastwood is a good filmmaker, but at a skeletal slim 96 minutes, Sully would have been better served with a little more meat on the bones of what was already a good story.

It’s a feel-good film that will make you want to hug your pilot the next time you fly.

I give this film 4 out of 5 hearts.

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About the Author

Kim Foreman-Rhindress is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and London Western Conservatory of music for piano and voice. 

Kim has been performing in theatre and film for over 30 years in Canada, NYC, Palm Beach, Los Angeles, and the Netherlands. She has written several plays which have been produced in Canada and the U.S., and is the founder of Kelowna Voice Lab - helping people find their voice, be it singing or acting. 

A working musician, she performs regularly in Kelowna with her husband, Jim Rhindress, in an acoustic duo Smitten, and with her vintage trio Kitsch 'n Sync.  

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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