On a cold January morning in 2009, a US Airways flight lost power in both engines after being hit by a flock of birds just minutes after taking off from New York’s LaGuardia airport. Unable to make it back to LaGuardia or other nearby landing strips, the pilot decided the best option at his disposal was to land the plane on the Hudson River.
It was a grave risk, and Clint Eastwood’s new film Sully vividly recreates each unnerving moment of that death-defying operation. In fact, Eastwood returns to it multiple times during the course of the film, and in a harrowing opening scene we get a glimpse of how badly things could’ve ended. On the day though, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) pulled off the feat, miraculously saving the lives of all 155 passengers and crew on board.
It is fitting that Sully became an overnight hero, and the film itself is a feel-good drama, an unabashed crowd-pleaser, a celebration of old-fashioned American heroism. But to be fair, Eastwood and his leading man take us beyond the headlines and the celebrations into the mind and heart of the protagonist.
Even as his flying career of 40 years and his reputation hangs by a thread while an investigation is underway to determine whether in fact Sully and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) did the right thing, we watch as he grapples with what appears to be the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. In one of the film’s most chilling scenes, Hanks, his face a canvas of mixed emotions, considers aloud while on the phone with his wife (Laura Linney) whether indeed he could’ve averted the potentially unsafe water landing.
But alas such delicious complexities are a very small part of this film. Instead, Eastwood pushes all the necessary buttons to stage a rousing rescue scene that’ll leave you with a lump the size of a golf ball in your throat. Just moments after the plane hits the water, and passengers begin to be evacuated, a private water ferry company and the New York Fire Department swing into action, offering a much needed helping hand.
The film benefits greatly from the casting of Hanks, who slips easily into the part of a man who expects no special acknowledgement for doing what he considers his job. The 60-year-old star holds the film together even when it’s clear there just isn’t enough plot here to make for a compelling film. The other starring attraction is the crash scene itself, filmed in IMAX, and suitably tense.
For these strengths specifically, Sully is worth a watch. It never raises prickly questions in the way that American Sniper did, but it’s a well-made film and relatively crisp at a little over 90 minutes. I’m going with three out of five.

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