Warner Bros 96 minutes PG-13
This is the first time Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks have worked together and it’s a solid performance for both. The movie shows that it wasn’t just the tough landing, but what followed the “Miracle on the Hudson” provides the drama for Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the US Airways pilot turned hero who safely crash landed a plane on the river on a cold day in 2009.
All 155 passengers and crew survived the crash and the dramatic water-rescue in the middle of January. This was filmed in IMAX, but we didn’t see it in the large format. Still, the plane coming at you in several scenes will make your heart pound. The bird strike that hit the engines will make you jump. And scenes of the plane going between building in NYC are frightening reminders of 9/11 which is even alluded to in the film.
Eastwood crafts a film that’s not only a reenactment of the landing which comes with great anticipation, finally, about an hour into the film. But it focuses even more on the grueling 18 month long investigation by the NTSB after the crash. During that time, the film shows Sully’s personal nightmares about whether he did the right thing or what might have been. At the same time he is jettisoned into a media frenzy hailing him as a super hero.
Hanks is very understated in this role. He talks softly and modestly. He never speaks in full voice. Everything seems to be muted. Yet he IS the whole film. That isn’t to say the other actors aren’t good, but they all seem comparatively, like extras. All except Aaron Eckhart as co-pilot Jeff Skiles and Laura Linney as Sully’s wife, Lorraine Sullenberger. Eckhart shows more emotion which is a good counterpoint to Sully’s calm manner. Hanks and Linney never have a scene on-camera together except in phone conversations, even after the crash. We thought there should have been one scene of them together.
To look like Sully, Hanks’ hair had to be made stark white which he says was a long, hard, tedious process. And eventually, his hairdresser said to stop because his scalp wouldn’t be able to take any more!
Eastwood teamed with writer Todd Komarnicki (Perfect Stranger) to adapt this screenplay from Sully’s book “Highest Duty” written by the pilot with the late Jeffrey Zaslow. You can’t improve on the facts of the story, but we found the structure of the film disjointed. Every time it gained momentum seeing what Sully, his co-pilot and the passengers were going through, the scene was aborted. Interruptions include flashbacks, daydreams and nightmares, calls to his family and the crush of the media coverage. Anticipation builds as you see imagined crashes as well as the ultimate one. But we found the interruptions distracting rather than supportive to the story, and annoying at times.
But the focus of the film is on whether Sully did the right thing by landing the plane on the Hudson rather than attempting to land at an airport. The NTSB’s lead investigator, Charles Porter is played by Mike O’Malley. You won’t like this character. His questions are threatening. He’s almost disrespectful to the pilot who is being hailed as a hero. Porter is portrayed as being irritated and almost jealous of Sully’s notoriety.
The other problem with the structure of the film is that you don’t get an accurate time frame of when things happened. You don’t know how long it took between the time of the crash, when the hearings took place, and when the evidence was found proving or disproving that Sully made the right decision. The hearings were actually held for 18 months after the crash, even though it seems to have happened much, much sooner in the movie. Also, it’s a little contrived that the crucial piece of evidence is brought up at just the right time in the film. And there are several scenes where the effects, like the breaths of the passengers showing how cold it was as they were leaving the plane, looked fake like it was animated or added later.
Eastwood takes us for a ride in a compelling film about a true event. Hanks is not as dynamic as he was in Captain Phillips, but is calmly effective as the humble pilot turned super hero. The scene that got to us most was when he is finally told that all 155 passengers and crew survived. That was this film’s most emotional moment for us and, for the audience at our screening. Seeing this film may give you pause then next time you’re taking flight. But buckle up for this one. You’re in good hands with Hanks and Eastwood at the controls.