*** stars (out of four)
In 2006’s excellent Flags of Our Fathers, Clint Eastwood addressed the topics of myth making and how people can be haunted by their heroism as much as by their mistakes. He returns to a similar thematic ground in Sully, the story of Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks), the pilot who successfully landed a US Airways plane on the Hudson River after its engines were crippled by geese.
The film opens with Sully and his co-pilot (Aaron Eckhart) in a Manhattan hotel awaiting a hearing from the National Transportation Safety Board. Sully is plagued by nightmares where he makes different decisions, resulting in the deaths of everyone on board. He’s also nagged by doubt that he might’ve been able to make it back to the airport, that he needlessly endangered everyone’s lives by executing the water landing. His doubts are abetted by early reports that one of the engines was still functional and a computer simulation indicating that safe return to the airport was possible. Hanks lends his usual quiet dignity to the role. Sully’s uncomfortable about the attention and the praise from the media and strangers he meets on the street.
When the emergency landing is shown in flashback, it’s tense and visceral. This is an impressive accomplishment since viewers already know everyone survived. The little details help: the shots of terrified onlookers in Manhattan office buildings briefly afraid of another plane crashing into a skyscraper, the devastated air traffic controller who thinks the plane has crashed and everyone has died, and the glimpses into the lives and personalities of the individual passengers.
Most directors don’t live to age 86, much less keep directing films at that age. It’s a joy for cinephiles that Clint Eastwood’s still making movies.