Dir: Clint Eastwood | Cast: Tom Hanks, Laura Linney, Aaron Eckhart, Mike O’Malley | Drama | US | 96min
For a film about a near disaster SULLY is terrifically buttoned up. Clint Eastwood’s slowly stirring study of the day an Airbus A320 was skilfully landed in the Hudson River by its pilot, one Chesley Sullenberger, is more of a procedural than the melodrama it could have been, or perhaps audiences expected it to be – but it nonetheless stands as a quiet tribute to courage and experience, and that added ingredient – the X Factor – is enjoyable although its narrative style quails away from an over-dramatic impact that would have sent it into the realms of melodrama rather than biopic exploration.
Tom Hanks is serenely magnificent as Captain Sullenberger – or Sully – as he is affectionately known. A man who embodies duty, responsibility and dignity – a triumvirate of qualities that may come across as comfortably dull but are actually beyond reproach and undervalued in this age of male meltdowns. He has a wife (Laura Linney) to do the tearful bits, leaving him to his nerves of steel. As a pilot he is exactly what you want him to be: calm, detached and sympathetic: and that doesn’t mean he goes home to a night of undisturbed dreams: part of his appeal comes from his ability to remain focussed on the job – allowing his fears and trauma to be unleashed and processed in the aftermath in sleep disturbed by recurrent nightmares that imagine a dreadful scenario where his engine-less plane, with crew and 155 passengers, carroons through Manhattan’s skyscrapers in an incendiary ride to Hell. What actually happened during the near-fatal flight is relayed in a fascinating and supremely-crafted landing sequence where we join the striken passengers as the plane touches down on the Hudson with some of the most extraordinary skylines known to mankind as a variety of river craft zone in on the rescue mission that transforms the stricken journey becomes a miracle in Manhattan.
SULLY tells how on January 15th 2009, flight 1549 left La Guardia airport and, shortly after take-off, is hit by a squall of birds, wrecking both the plane’s engines. Rather than turning back to La Guardia, which he deems unfeasible, Sully takes an informed but split-minute decision (208 seconds to be precise) to land the plane in the Hudson River, successfully saving all souls on board. Later, he finds himself under intense scrutiny by the NTSB, whose investigation reveals that potentially one of the engines was still working and theoretically could have made it back to the airport. But that’s all theory and conjecture and Eastwood’s film sets out to show what actually happened and how Sully saved his reputation, his career and the lives of all concerned.
In a world of multi-orgasmic melodramas, of tiredly emotional meltdowns and ever-climaxing dramas, SULLY comes as a pleasant relief with its calm analysis and restrained performances. Don’t go expecting to be reduced to a nervous wreck, go to discover what really happens when a plane is forced to lands in water, and you’re lucky enough to have Captain Sully at the controls. MT
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