Courageous Selflessness Will Leave You Feeling Grateful for Sully
- Jeffrey Huston Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- Updated Dec 16, 2016
Not just a thrilling depiction of a recent real-life event, but also a moving character study of moral resolve. There are numerous instances of heroism - not just from the main character - that set a selfless example for everyone who watches. 4 out of 5.
A riveting re-creation of "The Miracle On The Hudson,” the successful 2009 emergency landing on the Hudson River of a US Airways passenger jet, by Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger. Starring Tom Hanks, Sully explores the investigation that followed, which examined – and called into question – Sullenberger's decision making. The true story inspired millions after the double-engine failure of a passenger jet almost led to a terrible disaster. Certain tragedy was avoided when the clear-headed response by Sullenberger led to a spectacular but safe water landing that saved the lives of all 155 people on board – not to mention countless other lives spared by the plane not having crashed into the heart of New York City. The film, directed by Clint Eastwood, portrays a detailed, multi-perspective account of the flight, the speedy action of first responders, and the dramatic investigation that followed to find out what went wrong.
A lot. As Sullenberger, Hanks grounds this docudrama with the portrayal of a man who, despite being praised as a hero, goes through a great deal of soul searching as he wrestles with the anxiety of what has occurred, and whether he did everything right. That burden is compounded with an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board; their team leader seems biased to find a scapegoat for the near-disaster, with the easiest culprit being pilot error. That makes Sully the prime target.
The script is smartly constructed, too, in a way that maximizes dramatic effect. Instead of telling a linear narrative, the film jumps back-and-forth within the timeline of events. It starts with the post-crash investigation, and then begins to weave in flashbacks to how the day of the crash began, building toward a full central sequence that takes us through the entire flight in one extended nerve-racking set piece. The fear and emotion of the passengers is palpable, while the response by Sully – along with co-pilot Jeff Skiles (played superbly by Aaron Eckhart) and various NYC rescue teams – is truly inspiring, particularly under such intense life-and-death pressure. The conclusion to the investigation comprises the film's final act; it's very compelling, particularly as several computer simulations of the event dispute Sully's choices. Heart-warming footage during the end credits of the current day survivors, led by the real-life Sully, complete the film's journey, capped off by emotional sentiments from Mrs. Lorraine Sullenberger.
Some of the peripheral, intimate drama is fairly conventional. The recurring phone calls between Sully and his wife Lorraine are pretty routine, as are some of the moments of Sully haunted by what could've been. These scenes don't feel organic, despite solid performances by Hanks and Laura Linney. Clichéd scripting and direction is to blame. Also, the leader of the NTSB investigation is overplayed as the "villain." He seems mercilessly determined to take Sully down. That excessive tone feels contrived, obsessively vindictive, even false (so it's no surprise that the real-life investigators have protested their portrayal).
Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes
The virtues of courage, honesty, integrity, humility and bravery are all on display, as well as standing up for what you know is right even when tougher, more powerful authorities try to intimidate you.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)
- MPAA Rating: PG-13 for scenes of peril and brief strong language
- Language/Profanity: Occasional profanity, including one F-word. Six uses of the S-word, one A-word, one H-word, and one instance of the Lord's name taken in vain.
- Sexuality/Nudity: None.
- Violence/Frightening/Intense: Several sequences of plane-crash-related peril, from the extended re-creation of the actual event to some of Sully's nightmares and contemplations about potentially worse outcomes (such as the jet crashing into New York skyscrapers). No bloody or grotesque visual imagery, but very intense depictions.
Drugs/Alcohol: Some drinking in a bar. No drunkenness.
The Bottom Line
RECOMMENDED FOR: General audiences teenage and up. This film will make you grateful for public servants and airline crews who do their jobs so well, at times valiantly.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Grade school age and younger. The peril may be too intense, inducing fear (particularly of flying), plus the more nuanced dramatic scenes may try their patience.
Sully, directed by Clint Eastwood, opened in theaters September 9, 2016; available for home viewing December 20, 2016. It runs 96 minutes, and stars Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Mike O’Malley, Anna Gunn, and Jamey Sheridan. Watch the trailer for Sully here.
Jeff Huston is a writer/director/editor for Steelehouse Productions, a film & video production company in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He also publishes a movie blog that can be found at hustonmovieblog.com, and is a member of the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle. In 2015, his short film Pink Shorts was a finalist in HBO's Project Greenlight competition, and was one of six winners in that show's online "Greenie Awards."
Publication date: September 8, 2016