One of the most effortlessly perfect films I’ve seen in a long time. Sully tells a rough landing story of how Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks, alongside “Cast Away” this is his most outstanding work ever) led the US Airways commercial flight 1549 down onto the Hudson River to safety on January 15, 2009, on an emergency landing after a flock of Canada geese had fractured the plane’s engines – 155 passengers came away with their lives and health intact. Clint Eastwood, directing one of the finest films of his ever prominent career, tells it all with delicacy and clarity, but always too with a discernment of intelligence.
Eastwood tells even the different versions of what could have gone wrong, with the plane circling back to LaGuardia Airport, with equal discernment. The notion of whether Sullenberger should have circled back or continued into New Jersey to make his emergency landing turns out to be the crux of the film. The National Transportation Safety Board interrogates Sullenberger and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), actually grills them on their decision-making, and even suggests one of the engines was still functional enough to make it to a turf landing. The committee looks to defame Sullenberger with all their second-guessing, even if the media around the world has labeled the man a hero, and they make a stink at what it cost the airline.
Guilt consumes Sullenberger until he’s able to deconstruct the events himself, which he must get his consciousness in order before he and Skiles go before the big committee hearing – one in which their most bureaucratic investigators have set up flight simulations facilitated by human analysis. “I eyeballed it,” Sullenberger initially argues, before further explaining that he risked the lives of his passengers, and city-dwellers, if he had turned back the plane. The great moment at the hearing is Sullenberger destroying any notion that computer analysis has any business in probing this miracle landing.
In our modern times, the whole heroic act by Sullenberger is a rebellious one that goes against the grain of “order” and “procedure.” What’s further inspirational about the film is the unpretentious nature of Sullenberger, who defends his actions with a calmness and walks through a room with valiance. He’s so upright and collected you want him to be your pilot and voice of wisdom for your own eternity. But that’s the miracle of movies, too, that sometimes you unexpectedly love a person or the idea of what makes a person whom you didn’t know before the curtain rolls up and the picture starts.
“Sully” is an act of grace by Eastwood and Hanks, about a man of perfect grace.
96 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
HISTORICAL DRAMA / ADULT ORIENTATION / MASTERPIECE VIEWING