The sight of a passenger plane along the skyline of New York has been seared in the global collective consciousness. It’s a memory that “Sully,” director Clint Eastwood’s new film, acknowledges but also attempts to redefine. What if a plane skimming skyscrapers could conjure an image not just of unimaginable terror, but one of heroism and skill? That’s what “Sully” tries to accomplish, in committing to film the heartwarming story of the “Miracle on the Hudson,” when Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger made a forced water landing on the Hudson River with 155 passengers aboard a U.S. Airways flight to Charlotte, N.C.
Eastwood’s efficient and methodical approach mirrors the temperament and character of Sully, as portrayed by Tom Hanks. What’s remarkable about the incident, as we see it on screen, is how calm everyone remains throughout the 208-second ordeal. Perhaps because they didn’t know how amazing this feat would be, but also because everyone is doing their jobs very, very well. From the air traffic controller to the ferry captains to Sully himself, along with his first officer, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), and the flight attendants, every player is professional, motivated and helpful.
Helpfulness is a simple but powerful concept, and “Sully” captures the essence of what made the Miracle on the Hudson so inspiring. Eastwood takes care to make it a story about the various people who made it a miracle. That is the emotional core of the film, a celebration of the simple act of offering a helping hand without a second thought.
Eastwood populates the cast with New York character actors, including such recognizable faces as Michael Rapaport, Holt McCallany and Mike O’Malley. There’s a special kind of magic about a New York story where the big city suddenly becomes a small town over some strange or freak event, and Eastwood captures that.
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The conflict of “Sully” is the investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, out to detect any human error in the 208 seconds, on behalf of the airlines and their insurance companies. It proves difficult for reluctant hero Sully to embrace his own heroism when behind closed doors he’s being grilled about his personal life, confronted with computer simulations and data demonstrating that he could have made a landing at an airport. Coupled with his own traumatic memories of the event, it’s hard for him to accept the hero label.
During the hearing, Sully urges the board to consider the human element — the humans making decisions under duress, not computer simulations. “Sully” is about a hero, and a story that enthralled a nation desperate for good news, but it’s more about that intangible human element. Good people doing their jobs thoughtfully and at the height of their abilities, working together under unprecedented and extraordinary circumstances. Sometimes all of those things come together to create a miracle, and “Sully” is a warm reminder of that.
Rated PG-13 for some peril and brief strong language. 1:36. Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester.