Director: (2016) BBFC cert: 12A
Tom Hanks plays a pilot in a courtroom tailspin in this arresting real life drama. The two time oscar winner is cannily cast as Captain ‘Sully’ Sullenberger who astonishingly landed his passenger jet on New York’s Hudson river.
On January 15th 2009, Sully’s inspired flying saved all 155 souls on board. It’s immediately dubbed the Miracle on the Hudson by a media who can’t get enough of the self effacing former US Navy pilot.
Hank’s innate likability and dependable screen presence acts as a shorthand for everyday decency, honesty and courage. There’s an enjoyable chemistry between Sully and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles. Aaron Eckhart competes in the cockpit to sport the most luxurious moustache.
Following their tremendous piece of aviation skill, the pair are forced to appear on chat shows and are uncomfortable at becoming instant celebrities.
Under Clint Eastwood’s iron directorial grip, the story of heroism is spun into a battle between the individual and a conspiracy of big business and government. The veteran director clearly sides with fly by the seat of your pants intuition against stifling procedure and rules.
The airline’s insurers are unhappy and encourage know-nothing bureaucrats to find a scapegoat. During the investigation into the incident, computer simulations suggest Sully could have flown to a nearby airport to land safely. Facing the loss of their careers, pensions and reputations, the pilots must fight to save themselves.
Airplanes crashing in New York have a recent historical resonance. Rather than shy away from the horror of 9/11, the film embraces it and uses the terrifying imagery of a single crashing plane to express the collective paranoid nightmares of the US.
This is tremendous filmmaking and it’s worth pausing to consider how mass urban destruction was used unthinkingly in Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel (2013). That film is nearly twice as long but has less than half the brains. Its extended scenes of CGI carnage failed to entertain, never mind pass comment of the nation’s psyche.
It’s at this point Sully resonates with Eastwood’s previous film, American Sniper (2015). The pair are are very much a companion piece for each other. This is a another celebration of the pioneer spirit and can-do blue collar heroism, a tribute to the emergency services, of ordinary Americans guys such as ferrymen and cops doing their jobs with selfless bravery.
Considering we know the outcome of the forced water landing – not a crash – the action is surprisingly tense and is shown from the viewpoints of individuals on board and on shore. The accomplished CGI blends seamlessly with the New York skyline, the plane is a fragile tin can bobbing on the majestic sweep of the vast Hudson river.
The film flies past in a quick 90 minutes with Eastwood directing with his typical no frills style. But far from flying economy, this is first class storytelling all the way.