The story didn’t end with the Miracle in the Hudson – hero pilot Sully Sullenberger is tried by an investigative committee. Clint Eastwood’s film examines and re-examines the 2.5 minutes, as the bureaucrats make the case that 155 passengers were unnecessarily put at risk.
Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD
Warner Brothers Home Video
2016 / Color / 2:39 widescreen / 96 min. / Street Date December 20, 2016 / 35.99
Starring Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhardt, Laura Linney, Jamey Sheridan, Mike O’Malley, Anna Gunn, Ann Cusack, Christopher Curry.
Cinematography Tom Stern
Film Editor Blu Murray
Original Music Christian Jacob, Tierney Sutton Band
Written by Todd Komarnicki from a book by Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, Jeffrey Zaslow.
Produced by Clint Eastwood, Frank Marshall, Tim Moore, Allyn Stewart
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
In this year’s Sully Clint Eastwood found what I like to call an unbreakable story. This one poses a tricky narrative challenge — the only action content in the show lasts all of 208 seconds, a number that we hear repeated many times. Eastwood’s movie does a great job of stretching those 2½ minutes out to full feature length. Screenwriter Todd Komarnicki sourced Sully Sullenberger’s book, in which he recounts his difficult experience in the aftermath of the ‘Miracle on the Hudson.’ The nicely structured screenplay enlists some effective flashbacks, and even though everything in the movie is fairly predictable, it all feels satisfying. It’s exciting all the way — every repeat of the crucial 208 seconds is gripping. My father was a flyer, but he didn’t enjoy many aviation movies, because the planes always either blow up or crash. There are no crashes in Sully, as our pilot hero is quick to correct one particularly onerous interrogator investigator: it was a ‘water landing.’
They say a man is measured in a minute, or at least they used to say that when men were men and responsibility couldn’t be dodged by telling the press, “I take full responsibility.” These days, any movie about a person of integrity or one who keeps his word or has strong ideas and believes in them is a precious commodity. And any news item that doesn’t end in disaster, death, dishonor, shame or revulsion is something to celebrate as well. Sully Sullenberger’s big success saving the passengers of a large airplane is just that kind of news. That’s what makes his story unbreakable.
Ever note that Clint Eastwood movies rarely have committees of writers, and are often signed by just one name, like in the old days? Perhaps the fact that five sidebar stories haven’t been added helps the show maintain a consistent through-line. We see the same events at least six times, including nightmares and gory daydreams. The first time it seems to go by in a blur. The confusion of the aftermath then interferes with Sully’s memory — are all those ‘experts’ right when they insist that he made a terrible mistake? We see re-creations via computer prediction and by real pilots in flight simulators. By the time it’s over, the average viewer will feel qualified to steer the plane toward the Hudson River and make a safe landing. We all have ‘Sully’ moments in our lives, when we must make an immediate decision. Our experience takes over and we just do it. If a lot is at stake we might get the jitters later, because we second-guess our own judgment. We just hope that our judgment was good.
Tom Hanks is excellent as Sully, and so is Aaron Eckhardt as his steadfast copilot. They’re honest updates of the fliers we saw in old World War II flying movies — instead of making cocky quips about Mom and apple pie, they just want to do a decent job. Their brand of glory is practically on their job description: it takes a special man to go to work each day and take responsibility for the lives of so many people. Laura Linney has the thankless role as the weeping wife. Mrs. Sullenberger can’t grasp the gravity of the situation because she’s on a telephone a thousand miles away, and is understandably absorbed by mortgages and other household worries. We’re given to understand that airline pilots aren’t exactly rich people. Sully has debts and is trying to float a retirement company as an airplane safety consultant. It’s no sure thing. I didn’t see any product placement in Sully, but does his new company qualify? Like Sullenberger’s co-pilot says, I’d hire him. All of us would.
The rest of the cast consists of adoring bartenders, maids and strangers on the street that show their emotions when thanking or praising Sullenberger. We know a hero when we see one and want to do something for them, even if it’s just giving a big hug or a free drink. I hope all of the adulation hasn’t gone too deep into Sullenberger’s head. I think he probably has the horse sense to know that his halo is well earned, yet all a matter of chance. Had things gone differently, he could have become a scapegoat.
Many viewers weren’t aware of the movie’s central conflict, one that, until I read up on the case, I thought was an invention for the movie. Immediately after the ‘Miracle Landing’ the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board did for a time argue for finding Sully at fault for ditching a plane that the computers said could have made it to two different airports. Thus Sully is both a revered hero and a victim of fault- finding bureaucracies, and Eastwood keeps it all as simple as a Frank Capra movie. Those cranky government investigators care only about saving money and protecting their careers. If they have to throw someone to the wolves to ‘win,’ that’s fine with them. To its credit the movie doesn’t falsify anything, and Sully isn’t given any tearful public speeches. Of course he had doubts about how he performed, who wouldn’t. He experiences some anxiety and perhaps those moments are exaggerated to goose the drama. But it’s all within reason.
We almost expect Sully to be prosecuted
for killling endangered birds.
The only unfair aspect of the movie is that it does set up these government agencies as villains, inferring that we average citizens, just like Sully, are being oppressed by federal bureaucrats. The three main investigators (Jamey Sheridan, Mike O’Malley, Anna Gunn) have already decided Sully’s guilt and come off as inquisitors in search of a confession. The underlying message is that government regulation and interference is by definition bad, that the government itself is a pernicious force that attacks good people trying to do their jobs in an honest way. Eastwood isn’t above messages but he’s fairly gracious about this one. Just don’t try to sell me on the idea that industrial polluters and ranchers seizing public lands, are anything like Sully Sullenberger. I’d like to see the FAA use its power to make airlines improve air travel for the customers, not squeeze us with higher fees and less legroom.
I brushed up a bit on the facts of the case. Sully really was investigated as possibly being at fault. If proven, the serious charges could have spelled disaster for his career and finances. But it wasn’t really a case of three meanies on a dais grilling him like he was Joan of Arc. The real conflict was between the FAA and the NTSB. I read that one of the arguments to put the blame on Sally was to set a precedent to keep other pilots from doing risky things, something like ordering firemen not to run back into burning buildings to save people. What’s missing is the lack of bureaucratic resolution — the authorities still expect pilots to follow emergency procedures that assume engine failure occurs at a substantial altitude. Sully lost both engines at 2800 feet; his jet was going to crash in fewer than three minutes. He skipped the lengthy protocol checklist and went right to step #57 or something, to restore electrical power immediately. Technically, that’s a major offense. I’m not completely sure, but the rules of what he was supposed to do may not have changed.
In this case it’s obvious that Sully did the right thing. A pilot has to be free to use his judgment and experience to make decisions. Because he carries the responsibility of all those lives, he needs a lot of leeway. Short of gross negligence, it really isn’t fair to throw the “Right Stuff” rulebook at a pilot. Sully is good when it spreads the praise out to all the participants in the rescue — even the poor Air Traffic Controller, who unknowingly thinks he’s helped cause a disaster.
Physically the movie looks terrific. The special effects are quite good. We all saw the news pictures and know how the Hudson River lies next to Manhattan. We all remember how marvelous the conditions were that day: no big boats were on the river, and a half- dozen ferryboats, rescue launches and helicopters were right nearby. If anybody had to ditch a plane in the Hudson River this was the optimum moment to do it. It’s a pleasure to see Sullenberger put the plane down so smoothly and for the rescue to be underway thirty seconds after touchdown. The incident gives our New York rescue & police people a chance to shine, which is a nice change after the terrible defeat of eight years before, against powers that couldn’t be withstood. The movie Sully is like an anti- The Alamo: you go in already knowing things are going to turn out all right, yet it feels satisfying from one end to the other. They say that the new movie La La Land will be popular because people desperately need something bright and uplifting right now. Sully qualifies for that as well.
Sully makes a good comparison with the old Robert Aldrich thriller The Flight of the Phoenix. In that movie an old-school pilot played by James Stewart clashes with a young German engineer who only knows his slide rule. The engineer designs a new plane to be made from the wreck of a crashed plane, enabling ten men to escape from the middle of a desert. The cranky old pilot doubts the kid’s theories so much that he becomes a real troublemaker, but in the final reckoning it’s old flier’s experience and judgment that saves the day. The message of Phoenix is that we need for both kinds of people to somehow work together. German scientists and American fighter pilots went to the moon with this kind of cooperation. If there is something depressingly realistic about Sully it’s that the pilots and the bureaucrats come to no meeting of the minds. He’s right and they are wrong, and the righteous hero must prevail. We want for people in positions of responsibility to know what they’re doing, to make choices on the basis of reality rather than appearances or what the political effects will be. We could really use assurances of that kind right now.
Warner Brothers’ Home Video’s Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD of Sully is a solid transfer of this very handsome film. It’s nice to see a vision of New York as seen through visitors stuck in hotels and meeting rooms, people that can venture outside only in the early morning hours, to run in the freezing cold or stop in at a bar for a drink. The special effects are good because they emulate film coverage that might be taken from chase planes, or the windows of Manhattan skyscrapers. No CGI hyping at all — no bird POV’s as they slam into the jet, no Scorsese-esque zooms from infinity into Sully’s staring eye.
The extras show us how much was staged and how much was actually accomplished on location in New York. That’s all laid out in a BTS featurette. Another featurette profiles the real Captain Sullenberger — go for that one right away, it’s edifying. A third gathers Sully, his real co-pilot and the ATC to comment on the actual timeline of the fateful 208 seconds.
A DVD is included as well, along with codes for an Ultraviolet Digital HD copy. We’re given a graphic showing how the movie can be played anywhere, on TV, a computer, an iPad or a cell phone. That graphic is really tiny. I think I’m going to have my right thumbnail replaced with a tiny HD monitor. It can match the iPhone implanted in my left wrist, and the LoJack transmitter shoved up my [deleted].
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Sully Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD rates:
Supplements: Featurettes Moment by Moment: Averting Disaster on the Hudson; Sully Sullenberger: The Man Behind the Miracle and Neck Deep in the Hudson: Shooting Sully.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English, Spanish, Portuguese, French (feature only)
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: December 18, 2016
Text © Copyright 2016 Glenn Erickson