2016, PG-13, 96 min. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Starring Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Valerie Mahaffey, Delphi Harrington, Mike O’Malley, Anna Gunn, Jamey Sheridan, Holt McCallany, Laura Linney.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 9, 2016
Director Clint Eastwood’s recent political comments aside, this gripping and lockjaw-tense depiction of 2009’s “miracle on the Hudson” in which the pilot of a U.S. Airways A320, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Hanks), successfully made an emergency water landing in NYC’s fabled river after a midair bird-strike took out both of his aircraft’s engines. Eastwood wrings every bit of suspense available from a story whose ending is common knowledge by cutting back and forth across the narrative timeline to before the “incident” and the subsequent aftermath, which involves the NTSB attempting to scapegoat the modestly heroic captain and his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles (Eckhart), during the pro-forma post-incindent hearing.
Hanks is, unsurprisingly, excellent here, immersing himself in the role of a man on the verge of retirement who suddenly finds himself smack-dab at the center of a modern media frenzy. With over 40 years of flying under his belt, he’s the epitome of calm, cool, and collected as he makes the fateful decision to neither turn the flight back to LaGuardia nor attempt to make it to New Jersey’s nearby Teterboro Airport, and instead glide his way down the Hudson with zero engine thrust but a remarkably clear (if presumably disastrous) path down the river. Within moments of the water landing, Port Authority ferries were assisting the 155 passengers and crew off the slowly sinking craft; thankfully the Hudson has less traffic than midtown.
Sully is nevertheless rocked to his core by the whole ordeal. Although screenwriter Todd Komarnicki, adapting from Sullenberger’s book Highest Duty, never mentions the acronym by name, it’s clear from the horrific nightmares Sully experiences that he’s suffering from a serious case of PTSD. Added to that is the media coverage, which slowly begins to cast doubt on his ultimate decision to not turn back, and the looming NTSB hearing, which begins to feel more like a hostile interrogation than a clear-minded dissection of the day’s events.
Eastwood keeps his direction lean and mean. There’s not an ounce of wasted screen time in Sully’s 96 minutes, but the story, an example of “truth is stranger than fiction,” has all the thrust it needs, and then some.