Sully starring Tom Hanks - Review

Everybody remembers the story of the pilot who landed the commercial airline on the Hudson River in New York and how all the passengers walked away unscathed. It was a modern day hero story starring Captain “Sully” Sullenberger whose likeness is played by Tom Hanks in this very exciting, compelling film called “Sully” that opens Friday, September 9, 2016.

Sully film
Photo Credit: Keith Bernstein
Caption: (L-r) TOM HANKS as Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and AARON ECKHART as Jeff Skiles in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' drama "SULLY," a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Co-stars Aaron Eckhart and Laura Linney join Director Clint Eastwood in telling the tale of the Miracle on the Hudson in much more detail than we were ever told. Recounting the real events that took place on that cold day in January 2009, the film also explores their very real aftermath.  The plane carried 150 passengers and five crew members, yet not a single life was lost—not in the air, not in the water.  But as “Sully” reveals, in the days following, the pilot with a record of proficiency, years of experience, and calm in the face of potential catastrophe, would be called upon repeatedly to defend his actions to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

It was that part of the story, the one the world didn’t know, that drew Eastwood to the project.  “Anybody who keeps their wits about them when things are going wrong, who can negotiate the problems without panicking, is someone of superior character and interesting to watch on film.  But for me, the real conflict came after, with the investigative board questioning his decisions even though he’d saved so many lives.”

Eastwood directed the film from a screenplay by Todd Komarnicki, based on the book Highest Duty by Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow.

“Sully is a man who prepared his whole life to do this one impossible thing that he didn’t know he was preparing for,” Screenplay writer Komarnicki observes.  “But when you meet him, after ten minutes with the guy, you understand; you think, ‘Of course he pulled this off and no one else could have.’  But the beauty of this movie is that we’re finally telling the full story.  A true story that no one knows but everyone thinks they know?  What a great mystery to unfold on screen.”

Producer Frank Marshall says, “After everything the world knew about Sully and the landing, what happened to him after he became instantly famous was fascinating.  Todd’s approach to the screenplay was to take a story you’ve heard, like the key elements of that day, and turn it into one you haven’t, giving the audience a real feel of what it was like to be there.”

The role of Sully was one the always-in-demand Hanks couldn’t turn down, despite having to postpone a well-earned break.  “Sometimes you read something that is so stirring and at the same time so simple, such a perfect blend of behavior and procedure,” he reflects.  “Now, I’m as competitive as the next actor, so I knew I wanted at least a shot at it, even though I’d been working pretty steadily for about six years.  Sure I was beat but, not unlike a solid jolt of adrenaline, this role, Sully, Mr. Clint Eastwood…they all came along.  I felt like I couldn’t pass up a chance at playing in this great double-header at the end of this long baseball season.”

Although the two had never worked together before, Eastwood says, “Tom was one of the first people we thought about for the part.  But at the time he was just finishing a picture and we didn’t think we could get him.  But he read the script and liked it and made himself available.  And he was terrific, a consummate pro, and it was kind of effortless working with him.”

The filmmakers also appreciated what Hanks brought to the shoot when the cameras weren’t rolling.  Offers Eastwood, “He has a great sense of humor, so that makes it fun.  He’d be standing around waiting, sometimes in the rain, and still making the crew laugh.”

While tackling a persona so well known in the media was part of Hanks’ challenge, his real concern, he says, “was to embody Sully’s level of experience and expertise in the cockpit.”  No amount of reassurance from Sullenberger could compare to what Hanks felt when he took the simulator’s controls.  “He kept saying, ‘You’ll see what it’s like to fly when you get in the simulator,’ and I’ll tell you, it was the most lifelike experience.  It feels exactly as though you are in a plane, it requires no imagination because the physics of it—the tilting, the motion—it’s amazing.”

In the film, much of Sully’s time right after the landing is taken up by the National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) whose job it was to determine how a plane ended up on the Hudson River.  In reality, the NTSB hearings didn’t actually take place until 18 months later; the filmmakers took dramatic license, condensing the events in order to present the full story within the time frame of the movie.

“Sully” not only features the terrifying moments that everyone on the plane went through, but also the incredible rescue efforts that were immediately undertaken to get the stranded passengers out of the river’s frigid waters.

Personally, I loved the film and hope that it is rewarded many Oscars and other awards especially Best Picture.

~Cyndy Drue