Chesley Sullenberger known “Sully”, is an American airline captain who gained fame back in 2009 after he successfully landed an airplane in the Hudson River saving the lives of 155 passengers on board. A double engine failure in midair usually would mean death for a lesser pilot, but not Sully. His quick thinking and 30 years of flying experience is credited for turning a disaster into a miracle. The story was so compelling that it garnered a tell-all memoir by Sully which was adapted into a Hollywood movie with Clint Eastwood as the director and starring Tom Hanks.
We begin with Tom Hanks as Sullenberger, Sully has a nightmare about the aftermath of the crash in which everyone dies instead of lives. Sully has experienced this dream many times before as he suffers the effects of PTSD following the water landing. Sully is currently under investigation about his actions during the landing while at the same time doing a media blitz being hailed as a hero. Sully refuses to believe he’s a hero and claims he only did his job. Meanwhile, he is simultaneously trying to save his career and reputation against the National Transportation Safety Board. The board believes that a safe landing back to LaGuardia Airport was not only possible but argues that the left engine of the plane was still functional making the water landing in the Hudson completely unwarranted. There is essentially a war on perception when it comes to Sully. The media and his peers think he’s a great hero for saving everyone’s lives but the board sees him as a reckless pilot who made an unnecessary call endangering the lives of everyone on board.
‘Sully’ centers its focus on the aftermath of the landing rather than the landing itself. A big criticism early on was the fact the film felt very unfocused in the first act. You weren’t entirely sure what direction they were taking the movie with constant jumps between the past, the present, and dream sequences are thrown in as well. The emphasis on Sully’s PTSD was present very early but never comes back later on. Sully’s co-pilot Jeff, played by Aaron Eckhart, is his partner in crime who was with him during the landing. While Jeff is the only other character that gets a bit more character development outside of Sully, his role in the plot is really a person who is caught up in a legal battle via association. This becomes a fundamental flaw as they tend to focus more on the events of the story rather than the people who make it.
The biggest obstacle with ‘Sully’ is the fact it has the difficult job of trying to create tension where there isn’t any. We all know the story: The plane falls from the sky and everyone lives. The best sequence of the film is when they reenact this event in the second act. 208 seconds it took for Flight 1549 to lose both engines and fall into the water. Three and a half minutes between disaster and safety isn’t a long time. This leads to two tactics used by the writers. First, the film shifts back and forward between the events of the crash as a way to build tension before it actually happens. Secondly, they decide to add in elements of the rescue to create conflict in the story. You get a backstory of a family racing to make it on board so they can go on a golfing trip with their father. You also see the coast guards and ferry drivers come in to make the assist and help the passengers in need. They even try to create drama by focusing on some of the seriously injured passengers by telling you have only had minutes to live. The crash happens in January so understandably the water is very cold. This allows hypothermia to be the biggest concern of the rescue but again, we know the outcome so it’s difficult to buy this as a real concern. Problems like these undercut the story because the audience has difficulty removing themselves from the real life events and embracing the story.
Overall ‘Sully’ is a pretty good film. The acting is stellar and the direction is very good. You receive a pretty good insight into a man who is dealing with the fame and consequences of a decision he truly felt was the right call. Ultimately what this comes down to is, the meat and potatoes of this story are the three and a half minute dilemma that is stretched into a 96-minute movie. There just isn’t much to work with in terms of a story. The film is missing the conflict that makes the story interesting. While the cinematography and effects that went into the landing are great and well appreciated, it’s everything else that makes this film feel like an incomplete project. ‘Sully’ is enjoyable but forgettable and stuffed with filler to pad a weak plot.