The events of January 15, 2009, “The Miracle on the Hudson” were not only improbable its denouement was almost totally unexplainable. But was the crash landing of a passenger plane on the Hudson River really “miraculous” and heroic or just the result of an experienced and calm professional at the helm who did what any real professional would do? This is the central question that frames Sully, an honorable and stirring dramatization of the fateful flight of US Airways Flight 1549.
Directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Tom Hanks as the eponymous pilot whose decisions made global headlines, “Sully” is not a work of glorification; rather it presents itself as the story of the hard-working everyman who when needed to act quickly responded with coolness and control. Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger never considered himself a hero and under Eastwood’s direction, that sentiment is again promoted. It would be easy to produce a film of American heroism (as Eastwood has done as recently in American Sniper) and bravura but with “Sully” we have a refreshing deviation from the chest-thumping “The USA is # 1” narrative tales like Flight 1549’s landing could easily inspire.
This story certainly contains heroism and inspiration but it’s not forced down on the audience; instead, it is Captain Sullenberger’s humbleness, self-doubt and inner goodness that present themselves naturally to us. So were the events of that cold January day really a miracle? Under Eastwood’s guide, the miracle is shown to be not a glorious tale of Americana but of the collective work of many workers (from Flight attendants to the US Coast Guard) and the leadership of one man who acted skillfully to save 155 people from perishing.
For Tom Hanks, this film provides yet another excellent vehicle to showcase his always reliable and consistently high caliber talent. Hanks’ Sully is anxious, wary of the media spotlight, and unsure of whether to embrace the hero moniker thrust upon him. This is not the traditional American hero story and Sully is certainly not the traditional American hero; Hanks’ ability to bring forward the feeling of the dedicated public servant and every man with a family at home allows us to put ourselves in Captain Sully’s shoes. What if something urgent happened at our work and we needed to act quickly? Would we want the world’s attention on us? Sully certainly didn’t have the intention to make headlines; he merely acted on his 40 plus year experience as a pilot to avert total disaster. Thus Sully’s overwhelmed feelings could very well be our own if put in a similar situation.
Although Hanks has never truly delivered a poor performance his turn as Sully stands as one of his best in recent years (alongside Captain Phillips and Bridge of Spies)and it would be a welcome gesture to see his name on the list of nominees for the major awards, especially the always coveted Oscar. The special effects and CGI in the movie should also be noted for creating spectacular recreations of the plane’s amazing landing and its immediate aftermath; if one decides to view this in IMAX they certainly will be visually pleased. In viewing the harrowing descent of the plane on the river with such realism, it makes one wonder how New Yorkers felt when seeing the real thing.
“Sully” is an entertaining and stirring feature that celebrates the heroism of one man in a non traditionally heroic way. Choosing to sidestep the typical fearlessness and boldness of heroic American tales, the film like its titular protagonist presents itself in a relatable form for its audience. Captain Sullenberger is the hero we all could be, not asking for the spotlight but acting when the situation needed it. Hence the story of Sully’s heroism is really the story of everyday heroism. The “miracle” resides within us all, but are we willing to act when the time comes? Under Clint Eastwood’s capable direction and Tom Hanks’ first-rate performance, “Sully” is a movie that reminds us that the real miracles and heroes aren’t the Avengers but people like you and me.
Sully soars proving that not all heroes wear capes