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Sully


★★★★

Directed by Clint Eastwood Starring Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney Film Review by Evie Brudenall


Clint Eastwood directing. Tom Hanks starring. The utterance of this collaboration between two true American cinematic icons is enough to get any film fan’s senses tingling. Factor in the “based on true events” element and the adherence to the recent Hollywood trend of depicting a biographical snapshot of a person’s life, and Sully is a sure fire success. Does the film live up to its immense potential?

On January 15, 2009, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks), as US Airways Pilot and his First Officer, Jeffrey Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), board a routing and typical flight. However, mere minutes after ascension, a flock of birds render both engines powerless and Sully makes the decision to land the aircraft on the Hudson River. Miraculously, everyone on board survives and Sully is hailed a hero, but the investigation carried out by the National Transportation Safety Board that ensues casts a shadow of doubt over Sully’s actions.

Sully succeeds on many levels, but the casting of Hanks as the titular character was an inspired choice. Having arguably America’s most beloved actor portray the heroically humble Captain Sully, an undeniable saviour and the most likeable man is the perfect partnership. As the narrative unfolds, Sully begins to question his decision, despite saving over 150 lives on that fateful day, and is wracked with PTSD. As an audience, we are positioned to feel sympathy for him over and over again and we almost want to become one of the Captain’s many adoring strangers and give him a quick squeeze of appreciation ourselves. Eckhart provides an excellent supporting turn as Skiles, Sully’s co-pilot and ultimate defender. Interjecting the majority of the film’s levity and being a great champion of his colleague, the bond between the two characters (and inherently the real life figures) is heart-warming to behold.


Although this is Sully’s story, he chivalrously reminds everyone that the miracle that happened that day on the Hudson River was a collective effort. From the air stewardesses who guided the passengers to safety, the passengers who complied so helpfully to the quick response times and efficiency of the respective rescue services, the collaboration of everyone that day led to the survival of everybody on board and was the purest demonstration of human goodness. Highlighting the lives of a select few passengers was a welcome inclusion and reminded us that these people are more than just a statistic, and significantly heightened the suspense – even though the outcome is no secret.

Sully’s PTSD manifests itself as nightmarish visions of planes crashing into the buildings of New York, and the memory of 9/11 glaringly looms over these apparitions. It’s in these sequences where the reality of Sully’s quick-thinking actions really hit home – the alternative outcomes are too painful to reimagine and we wholly appreciate the risks that are taken every time a plane’s wheels leave the runway.

However, although the event is largely perfect for adaptation to the big screen, due to the short time period in which it took place, the script can feel stretched as if there’s simply not enough material to sustain the piece. For example, the scenes illustrating a young Sully and his first piloting experiences show us just how skilled and practiced he is, but are obvious story telling tools to fill the film’s runtime. Arguments have been made regarding whether the tale is better suited to a short film; whilst these arguments are justified, the feature length format afforded the filmmakers an in depth insight into Sully’s psyche and tribulations following the crash. Something a short could not have successfully achieved.

Scripting issues aside, Sully is a thoroughly engaging and powerful watch from an actor and filmmaker who are at the peaks of their creative prowess. In the film’s closing moments, a board member asks Sully and Skiles, “Is there anything you would have done differently?” The answer in regards to the film: no. There isn’t.

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