I just caught this movie before it finished its run in our local cinemas. I'm glad I did – it should be seen on the big screen. It's one of the best aviation flicks of recent times. Directed by Clint Eastwood, from a screenplay by Todd Komarnicki, it is based on the true story of Capt Chesley Sullenberger who, in January 2009, was forced to ditch his Airbus A320 passenger jet in the Hudson River, New York, after a bird strike took out both his engines shortly after takeoff from a New York airport. He was carrying about 150 passengers. Through a combination of good luck and superb flying, everyone was saved without serious injury.
The movie, masterfully short at just over one and-a-half hours, takes as its centrepiece the enquiry into the ditching carried out by the US National Transportation Safety Board, or NTSB. The actual forced landing, and some highlights of Capt “Sully” Sullenberger's previous flying career are shown in flashbacks. The film concentrates on the stress and worry suffered by Sully because of the tack taken by the enquiry, which was to query strongly whether he made the right choice by landing in the river. Surely he could have made it to a nearby landing field and saved the plane? The forensic investigation of the circumstances surrounding the incident is well done and, for anyone interested in civil aviation, quite fascinating. The fact that the NTSB ultimately found in his favour was, according to the movie, by no means assured.
The film has been criticised for presenting the NTSB hearing as unnecessarily biased and out to "get" Sullenberger. It has been said that the real-life hearing was much more restrained, less confrontational, and more even-handed than shown in Eastwood's film. I suppose whatever the truth, we must realise this movie is meant to entertain, and Hollywood is renowned for injecting drama and conflict into situations for the purpose of entertaining. In any event, accurate or not, the NTSB scenes are quite absorbing.
I found the film really riveting. But then, I've been interested in aviation for many years. I am a sucker for a good movie about flying. And this is a good one, make no mistake.
Tom Hanks plays Sully. Apart from the fact that Hanks, as made up for this film, looks remarkably like the real Sully (who appears in a scene at the end of the film), his performance captures beautifully the emotions of a dedicated professional flyer whose competence, for the first time in his long career, is being seriously questioned. Not to mention his performance during the crash sequence, when he plays to perfection a pilot who has to make a life-or-death decision with only seconds to spare. This is one of the best performances of Hanks' career. In a solid, support role as Sully's first officer, Jeff Skiles, is Aaron Eckhart. I'm not familiar with a lot of his recent work, but he is a very good here – he portrays Skiles as a completely loyal first officer, who backed up his superior 100%, both during the crash and afterwards at the NTSB hearing. Sully was lucky, and deserving, to have such a loyal and committed first officer. In another support role is Laura Linney who plays Sully's wife, Lorraine. I've always liked Linney's performances, and the same goes here. She portrays a loyal wife, battling the ordinary, daily problems such as mortgage payments, who then has to cope with the stresses and strains of the crash, the enquiry, and their effects upon her husband. Also of note is Anna Gunn, formerly of "Breaking Bad", who plays one of the NTSB panel investigating the accident. It's nice to see so many of the "Breaking Bad" actors turning up in big-time movies.
Clint Eastwood's direction is just about faultless. The pace is fast enough, the scenes are crisp and concise, the story is well told, and the acting from just about everyone is excellent. Of course, Clint is a veteran actor and movie maker who has been around for decades. Although now well into his senior years, if this film is any guide, he has lost none of his touch. Excellent editing also contributes to a film that tells a great story, in good time, and with a visual style that, particularly during the forced-landing scenes, is quite gripping.
I feel that perhaps the design of the A320 didn't get quite the credit I thought it deserved. Most aircraft when force-landing on water often turn turtle, break apart, and sink like a stone. In this case, the A320 did not turn over, did not fall to pieces, and floated for a very long time. Of course, pilot excellence was a huge factor in this successful ditching, but I can't help but feel that all those survivors were extraordinarily lucky to have, not only Sully at the controls, but an aircraft which refused to do what land-based planes usually do when they ditch in the water.
This is a masterpiece of aviation cinema. Not to be missed by anyone interested in flying.
Gilbert's star rating (out of five): * * * * 3/4