I’m sure we all remember the so-called ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ when captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger managed to land US Airways Flight 1549, an Airbus A320, on the Hudson River after multiple bird strikes took both engines out at just 2,800 feet. Clint Eastwood seemed to feel so impassioned by the story that he produced and directed this film all about it.
Rather than focus the entire story on the actual plane crash itself, although you do get to see it multiple times, Eastwood instead focuses on the way Sully, played by Tom Hanks, and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles, played by Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight, Olympus Has Fallen), are treated in the aftermath of the crash.
It’s here that we get to the first problem. Writer Todd Komarnicki (Perfect Stranger, Resistance) wrote the story from Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow’s (a prolific co-author) autobiography and, having not read it, I can’t say where the liberties have been taken, but taken they have been.
In the movie, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are depicted as petty, clueless and hounding Sully and Skiles about the crash, claiming that they could have made it back to two different airports. In fact, when people have reviewed the factual record and compared it to the film, they don’t match in either tone or substance. This may seem trivial but it isn’t. The NTSB are there to get to the facts and are completely impartial, portraying them in this way sets a dangerous tone that they, and by association, the government are incompetent and ‘out to blame someone’.
Eastwood was nothing if not meticulous in his filming of the events using the same locations and hotels that were used during and after the event. They apparently filmed all of the rescue scenes around an empty piece of water and then overlaid the plane which had been filmed on a soundstage. The effect is wonderful, as are the scenes depicting the plane going down.
Eastwood is an accomplished director, but then we knew that before Sully. Here he shows us again with his cramped, in the plane shots, before we leap out to overhead and alongside the plane as it glides over the Hudson.
Hanks and Eckhart are very good in the film though Eckhart, in truth, has little to do. This is the Tom Hanks show and the film makes no-bones about it. The performance is brilliant, no two-ways about it. However, I’m left conflicted about how I feel about Sully. In the movie he seems to try to portray himself as ‘just a man doing his job’, he seems to shy away from the limelight and not want it all. Yet, when you look into the films production you see that Sully was involved quite heavily, even as far as apparently providing ‘tips’ to Hanks about portraying him.
This, as I’ve said, leaves me conflicted. On the one hand you have a man landing a plane on water and everyone survives. Brilliant, amazing, wonderful. Then that man seems to want to portray himself as just an everyman, doing my job, nothing to see here…yet he does that by writing a book (with a co-author) and being involved in a multi-million dollar movie. The two don’t square with me I’m afraid.
So where does that leave the film? Well, there’s nothing wrong with it per-se. I think Komarnicki and Eastwood have done a good job to eek out an hour and a half from the story. Hanks adds considerable weight to the proceedings with his performance and it is very emotional and powerful.
But. And yet. There’s just something not quite right. It all feels a little, well, a little navel-gazing. There’s a scene in which Hanks is running through Times Square and, on the giant screens, are adverts for one of Eastwood’s other films, Gran Torino, and a massive photo of the man himself. Who does that? Clint Eastwood obviously.