Of all the awful things you could hear while flying – crying babies, drunken tourists, Adam Sandler Movie Marathons – none come close to those seven simple words uttered by US Airways pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger on January 15, 2009. After hitting a flock of birds mere moments after takeoff that caused in a catastrophic and unprecedented dual engine failure, Sully and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles were forced to execute a note-perfect ditching of their aircraft on the Hudson River. Their heroics saved all 155 souls on board and turned Sully into an overnight sensation.
Directed by Clint Eastwood, Sully is an examination of the man behind the so-called Miracle on the Hudson. As such, the film opts to focus almost entirely on the days that followed Sully's astounding water landing – including with the National Transportation Safety Board investigations and media frenzy it precipitated – rather than honing in on the crash itself. That's not to say Eastwood omits it entirely. The harrowing sequence, when it finally comes, is a gripping and well crafted as any seen in film. But by prolonging its delivery and focussing on the lesser known story, the veteran filmmaker delivers a far more engaging and balanced tale than the more conventional drama Sully might easily have become.
In the title role, Tom Hanks brings understated grace and dignity , albeit in a performance far more clinical (even analytical) than we're used to. The style befits the protagonist, a man whose impossible levels of composure enabled him to do what had never been done before, and all with a calmness of voice that defies belief (if you've not heard the official cockpit recording, try to imagine saying "We may end up in the Hudson" with the same level of poise most people evince when ordering a pizza). Aaron Eckhart, meanwhile, puts in an endearing turn as Sully's faithful co-pilot, while a solid supporting cast including Laura Linney, Mike O'Malley, Anna Gunn and Jamey Sheridan ensure the script by Todd Komarnicki stays on the right side of schmaltz – no matter how close Eastwood veers towards its limits.
There's no question that Sully is unashamedly sincere in its portrayal not just of the extraordinary pilots, but also their crew, the passengers, the air-traffic controllers and the selfless New Yorkers who raced to their rescue without a moment's hesitation. Thankfully, Eastwood is the master of underplayed tributes to everyday heroes, especially those who shy away from the very notion of their own valour. Few could be more humble, or deserving of such a treatment, than the man who gives this remarkable movie its name