CLINT Eastwood intensely represents the ‘miracle on the Hudson’ in his new dramatic movie centred on the besieged airline pilot, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who saved the lives of all his passengers in January 14th 2009.
Sully is based on the true story of the Airbus 320’s forced and immediate landing on the Hudson river of New York only 208 seconds after its take off from La Guardia. The incident happened when a geese flock ‘crashed’ on the aircraft’s engines causing them to fail.
Director Clint Eastwood, 86, understands that the actual events had all the ingredients of a high-stake Hollywood drama and keeps the film simple without showy or exaggeratedly production.
But the film does take the liberty of falsifying the actual timing of the investigation into the accident by the National Transportation Safety Board so as to increase the drama. While the actual investigation took place 18 months later, in the movie it takes place right away.
Captain Sullenberger, terrifically portrayed with his full honesty and friendliness by Tom Hanks, and co-pilot Jeff Skiles, depicted through a funnier performance from Aaron Eckhart, are taken straight from the crash scene to a hotel and then required to participate in an inquiry of whether or not the plane could successfully have been landed on an airstrip according to suggestions from computer stimulations.
Several flashbacks from different viewpoints of Sully, the flight attendants, passengers and lastly the rescue crews help to further develop the drama.
Moreover, a reference to the 9/11 incident can be noticed when Sully has a nightmare of him crashing the plane into a New York skyscraper while trying to take the plane back to the airport instead of landing it on the river. Another character observes that “it’s been a while since New York had news this good — especially with an airplane in it”, which is the main reason behind the natural evolvution of the ‘miracle on the Hudson’ into a myth.
During the movie, Eastwood captures the dilemma of how despite the fame Sully gained from the successful landing he then never felt more alone. Every media organisation wants a ‘piece’ of Captain Sullenberger but no one really takes time to understand the toll this incident took on him.
The biggest struggle of the film is over the administrative outcome rather than the crash landing itself. The full-scale investigation launched by NTSB is concerned mainly with dodging any accountability from its end and gives a viewpoint of the passengers’ lives being irrelevant, which makes it look like a Disney villain.
Sully explains to the NTSB board (Anna Gunn, Jamey Sheridan and Mike O’Malley) that they left the human factor out of their computer algorithms, and manages to prove that even with a quick reaction time of 35 seconds their simulations showed any attempt at a runway landing would have failed. Thus, Sully did not just save the lives of the passengers and the crew but also avoided possible civilian casualties.
In light of these event, Sully and Jeff take a brief break outside the investigation room to congratulate themselves for the first time in the film by modestly saying “we did our job”.
Returning to the room, when the captain is praised for his actions he comments that it was the collective effort of the crew members, the rescue team, the passengers and the air control team that created the ‘miracle on the Hudson’.
Hanks’s performance as a reluctant hero trying to adjust to unwanted limelight and only having limited communication (only through phone calls) with his wife (Laura Linney), exceeds expectations.
Scriptwriter Komarnicki instead of delving into Sully’s backstory uses a couple of flashbacks to demonstrate the pilot’s composure under pressure
Seeing how the rescue effort unfolds and the pressure which everyone involved in the crash is under is powerful stuff indeed. The director should be credited for managing to keep showy behaviour to a minimum as well as avoiding clichés.
The sharp, focused and quality cinematography has led to the creation of a film that audiences can just sit back and appreciate.
With Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks for ‘pilots’, the film is ready for lift off with probable destination the Oscars.
By Panteleimon Anastopolous