By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — You remember the uplifting story, dubbed “The Miracle on the Hudson.”
It featured an act of heroism on January 15, 2009 that helped us forget just for a moment the financial meltdown we were going through.
Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger was the pilot who, miraculously, landed his U.S. Airlines flight 1549, en route from LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte, North Carolina – just minutes into the A320’s flight — in the frigid Hudson River in New York City.
The reason: the plane had run into a flock of Canadian geese and was crippled, having lost power in both engines and with no airport nearby, thus threatening the lives of the 155 passengers and crew on board, including Sully’s co-pilot, First Officer Jeff Skiles, played by Aaron Eckhart.
It seemed at the time like something right occurring in the midst of a lot of something wrongs, all of which seemed governed by greed and self-interest.
But not this new symbol of hope.
Thus was Sullenberger deemed a hero, whether or not he actually felt like one.
Sully is an unapologetically optimistic biodrama confidently and competently piloted by director and co-producer Clint Eastwood, the Oscar-winning director of Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby and an Oscar nominee for Mystic River and Letters from Iwo Jima, who works from a screenplay by Todd Komarnicki that’s based on the autobiography, “Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters,” by Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow.
Tom Hanks – born to play this role, and supremely confident in his thoughtful underplaying – shows us the way Sullenberger reluctantly but cooperatively joined the publicity game that followed and celebrated the momentous event, which is depicted as one harrowing survival experience following another.
It was a behind-closed-doors, year-long investigation into Sully’s split-second decision-making during the event, launched as the official inquiry by the National Transportation and Safety Board.
The career of the acclaimed iconic hero was suddenly in jeopardy. And not only was he to be tested yet again, but his family was impacted as well, including his wife, Lorrie, played by Laura Linney.
Suddenly, Sully’s name was in danger of being sullied, and he found himself experiencing insomnia, nightmares, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress.
And while the fact that audiences already know the outcome would seem to reduce the level of tension and suspense, Eastwood turns that seeming weakness into a strength by giving us multiple versions and impressions of the near-tragedy and introducing new information and insights by varying the form and point-of-view in flashbacks and memories and simulations and nightmares.
Eastwood trusts that the material speaks for itself, to say nothing of the brilliantly unfussy special effects, so he takes a muted, downright humble approach, not milking the narrative for drama, not flying any higher in the sky than he needs to, not overreaching. But his nonetheless masterful piloting of this absorbing, well-crafted drama is a good match for this true tale of a masterful pilot
It is professionalism that is on vivid, big-screen display both in front of and behind the camera. And not just from Hanks and Eastwood: there are admirable behaviors and displays of expertise depicted on the part of many of the supporting characters as well – just everyday people doing their jobs well — during what turns out to be a heroic group effort.
Meanwhile, the impressive directorial resume of Clint Eastwood glitters that much brighter.
So we’ll land 3-1/2 stars out of 4 for the modest but quietly powerful Sully, a feel-good docudrama smack-dab in the middle of a feel-bad era.