Tom Hanks braces for impact in ‘Sully’

By Hudson Smith

('Sully' Official Facebook Page)
(‘Sully’ Official Facebook Page)

Not long ago news sources were bursting with headlines such as “Pilot Is Hailed After Jetliner’s Icy Plunge” that described a newsworthy miracle: an emergency plane landing on the Hudson River. Director Clint Eastwood delivers the famous 2009 incident in a gripping, realistic manner that unites the audience behind the rightly lauded hero, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger.

Comic book superheroes have filled movie theaters lately, yet “Sully” brings a human quality that allows the audience to connect with something besides a cape or incredible strength. Captain Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) is a hero in an ordinary sense. He struggles with the inner workings of his own anxious subconscious, overcomes opposition from the professionals who should be honoring him and faces the age-old conflict of man versus machine.

Sully and his 155 passengers and crew survived the crash whilst the hunk of metal – previously known as Flight 1549 – sank to the bottom of the Hudson River. Once the Coast Guard and first responders safely rescue everyone, Eastwood frames Sully in the foreground as the plane continues sinking. Sully conquered the machine without a single scratch on him, and stands above the aircraft and expansive body of water.

Unlike the public that fawn over Sully as soon as he exits the sinking aircraft, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) scrutinize every move he made in the 208 seconds before the crash. In addition, they consistently insinuate the possibility of his personal matters affecting the crash landing rather than mechanical error with the engines. With their snide expressions they ask if he was drinking and suggest pilot error or problems at home.

These comments creep under Sully’s skin and cause some clear stress. In these sequences, Eastwood and Editor Blu Murray demonstrate their mastery of transporting an audience across the past and present without turbulence.

Rather than relying on constant action to entertain, Eastwood creates a bond between the viewer and the events that occurred only seven years ago. The NTSB bureaucrats depend upon their precious simulations, telling the heroic pilot he acted in error. In doing so, they fill his mind with self-doubt. The viewer sees this anguish in scenes of Sully’s insomnia, conversations with his wife Lorraine (Laura Linney) and his interactions with grateful strangers.

In another laudable performance, Hanks transforms into Sully, embodying his humility and love of flying. The emotional exhaustion of reliving the traumatic event repeatedly washes over Hanks’ face when being questioned and bounced from one talk show to another. He even lapses into distorted realities of witnessing the 9/11 attacks in New York.

Radiating with a glorious white mustache, Hanks occupies center frame for a large majority of the film. Clint Eastwood uses Hanks as a canvas, showing the internal struggles through flashbacks and the vista of his aging eyes.

Sully proudly states in the final moments of the movie, “It wasn’t just me, it was all of us.” Eastwood makes this apparent throughout with multiple point of view shots from the first responders, the coast guard, the air control board and the news broadcasters. The film focuses on relationships rather than constant action. The passengers do not trample over each other when they hear their plane is going down, but listen attentively to the flight attendants’ instructions.

The audience will never forget this movie focuses on a hero, because every single supporting character or extra makes sure of it. The viewer connects with Hanks as the man that performed the seemingly impossible: ditching into a body of water with all 155 souls alive.

“Sully” may feature the most calming plane crash ever seen in film, yet it never fails to thrill.

Hudson Smith can be reached at [email protected].