Movie Review: Sully featuring Tom Hanks

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mv5bmtg5ntuwndiyov5bml5banbnxkftztgwmji2otc3ote-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_“Everything is unprecedented until it happens for the first time.”

On January 15, 2009, a US Airways flight took off from LaGuardia Airport to the clear winter skies under the command of Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger (Tom Hanks; “Bridge of Spies,” “Saving Mr. Banks,” “Captain Phillips,” “Cloud Atlas“) and first officer Jeffrey Skiles (Aaron Eckhart; “London Has Fallen,” “Olympus Has Fallen,” “The Dark Knight“).

Shortly after  taking off, bird strikes damaged both engines and disabled the aircraft.  After a distressed exchange with the air traffic controller and rapidly evaluating his options, the veteran captain made a split-second decision to glide his plane onto the Hudson River.  That decision proved to be crucial in saving the lives of all 155 people onboard.

Adapted from Sully’s best-selling book, “Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters,” director Clint Eastwood (“American Sniper,” “J. Edgar,” “Hereafter“) had a challenge in making a whole movie out of ‘Miracle on the Hudson,’ a flight that lasted for 3 minutes and 28 seconds and rescue 24 minutes.  Whilst the crash-and-splash event is certainly a focal point, the film focuses on Sully, heralded as a hero by the press and public, yet facing intense investigations from the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB).

There have been questions about whether Sully could have selected a different course of action that would not have unnecessarily endangered the safety of the passengers, such as turning back to LaGuardia Airport or even landing at a regional airport nearby, Teterboro.  There has even been a difference in how the event is perceived, a crash versus a forced water landing.  Multiple simulations, both digital and real, have shown that a runaway landing is not only possible, but probable.  But simulations are simulations; they do not take into account the human factor, life or death reactions to crisis in the skies in real time.

Amidst the searing scrutiny, Sully never loses his composure.  Exactly the sort of consummate professional you would want to fly a jetliner.  A highly skilled and dedicated aviator with a precise instinct and extensive experience going back to his youth and military days.

Yet, Sully is also human and has self-doubts and nightmares about the incident.  He wonders whether his sterling reputation and long career would end on a 208-second episode, even after 40 years of flying and delivering a million passengers safely.  Still, he is able to understand that, just like him and his crew and the first responders, the NTSB is doing its job as well.  Eastwood manages to stretch the story by replaying the event from multiple angles.

Eastwood successfully stages realistic-looking crash and rescue scenes.  Although the outcome is well-known, you’ll feel the impact starting when you hear the ominous words, “Brace.  Head down.  Stay down.”   And when the plane hits the water.  Chills fill the air when passengers  shiver out in the open, sliding down the rafts, lining up the wings or plunging into the frigid river.  The evacuation is surprisingly, relatively calm and remarkably orderly.

Hanks portrays Sully with subtlety and reserve, another fine, common-man persona.  If Sully is a quiet strength, Eckhart brings in a smattering of lightheartedness with Jeff’s forward manner.

Flying may have been a routine experience these days.  Until it isn’t.  You’ll come out with a greater respect and appreciation for the fine men and women that help keep our skies (and waters) friendly.

“Sully” is an unassumingly riveting docudrama with a heart and a touch of miracle.

Copyright (c) 2016.  Nathalia Aryani.

Nathalia Aryani is a film columnist and has a movie blog, The MovieMaven( Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at

Nathalia Aryani is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic ( She has a movie blog, The MovieMaven ( Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at [email protected].

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