Sully was one of last year’s best films (and in a weaker year would have received a lot more awards attention). Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks teamed to bring one of the most astounding true life stories in recent memory to life by doing a very un-Hollywood thing: they didn’t glamorize it. If you watch the documentaries and compare it to the film, there’s only embellishment to make it believable. Sully was actually CALMER than Hanks, who only amped it up a slight notch. The crash scene is meticulously recreated. Eastwood knew he didn’t have to give the story any more glitz, because “The Miracle on the Hudson” was already a miracle. It didn’t need a pounding score or extra complications.
My favorite scene is where you really understand how extraordinary Sully’s quick decision-making and piloting skills are: during the NTSB hearing when he challenged results showing he could have done anything other than what he did. We all know the range of Hanks. He can literally do anything onscreen, but it takes a seasoned actor to mimic the restraint of the real hero and let that power carry the scene. As a bonus, if you missed Hanks reprising his role on Sully on Saturday Night Live , I’m including that as well because 1) it’s hilarious and 2) it shows the massive Hanksian range I just mentioned when compared to the film.
The temptation in Sully would be to try to over-glamorize something that was already astonishing as is or make Capt. Sullenberger into something more than the quiet, reserved, professional, dignified man he is. The triumph of the film, to me, is that the star of this film is the crash. Hanks’ portrayal of Sully is true to what I’ve seen of the man in interviews. He’s not glamorous or flashy. He’s a professional pilot who took the lives of his passengers very safely. He’s humble and soft-spoken; not the sort of things that make up a Hollywood star. But, I think, that’s why everyone identified with Sullenberger and hailed him: he was one of us. Yes, his job was more high-profile than those of us sitting in cubicles, but to him, this was him doing his job. Eastwood and Hanks give you pieces of the flight from the very beginning of the film, but it’s not until the finale that you see the entirety of it from the viewpoint of passengers, crew, ground control, and bystanders. Sully is a brief film at 90 minutes; it tells its story tightly, with enough human angles to lend perspective. The narrative device used to drive the crash is something I was unaware of, the tremendous pressure exerted on Sully and First Officer Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) by US Airways and the NTSB, claiming Sully could have easily made it back to New York or New Jersey and the water landing had been unnecessary.