Sully: Miracle on the Hudson

This movie has two separate titles which is appropriate as in some respects it is two separate movies. The first, Miracle on the Hudson, is about the 2009 incident in which a passenger plane was forced to make a controlled water landing on the New York river and the second, Sully, is about the pilot Chelsey ‘Sully’ Sullenberger and how he was affected by the experience and the subsequent investigation. The two blend together fairly well it is just that one is an incredible story and the other isn’t really much of a story at all so they have had to Hollywoodise it. Then there is the fact that even with these two narratives combined there still isn’t enough to sustain an entire feature film. 


The parts of the movie that depict the emergency, in which birds flew into both engines of a US Airways jet minutes after it has taken off from LaGuardia, are excellent. Even if though you know how things all panned out these scenes are totally gripping. It is also really interesting to see how everyone reacted, from the flight crew to the passengers to the ferry boat captains who came to help once the plane was down. These events are based closely on records of the true events including the recordings made on the aircraft. As an audience you go through a range of emotions feeling exhilarated, nervous, sad, astonished and inspired. This part accounts for just thirty minutes of the whole film though and it would have been hard to stretch it out more than this as it all occurs in real time. As it is some sequences are repeated.


Another half an hour is given to the National Transportation Safety Board enquiry which plays first like a police interrogation and then like a court case. Almost all of this feels contrived and the NTSB investigators come across as unrealistically one dimensional bad guys. The film has received some criticism for this which seems fair. Names have been changed to protect the innocent but I can see why those involved may have taken offence. Even aside of maligning real people and an important organisation none of it is really believable. Whether the representation of the NTSB is accurate or not, narratively it doesn’t convince. 


The remaining third of the film is filled out with Sullenberger jogging around the city, visiting a bar, struggling to sleep, phoning his wife and staring out of windows. Of course Tom Hanks is brilliant but this is all padding. He is a great actor but watching him frown for half an hour is not enough. There are a couple of flashbacks to his life flying smaller aircraft but they add nothing. We also get several shots of aeroplanes crashing into New York buildings as he imagines what could have been. The 9/11 comparisons are deliberate but this doesn’t sit well. The images are too obvious in their desire to be cinematic and making this a spectacle doesn’t feel appropriate.


What director Clint Eastwood should have done is made it much more of a character study like the similarly themed but entirely fictional Denzel Washington film Flight. That wasn’t a perfect movie either but it was about more than the plane crash at the beginning. Sully: Miracle on the Hudson saves the full aircraft down sequence until the end so it ends on a high point but it doesn’t quite make up for the flaws in what comes before. The very very end is too abrupt too. Aaron Eckhart’s co-pilot makes a joke at the closing of the enquiry hearing (which apparently he did in real life) and then it’s the credits. It’s like one of those cheesy TV episodes that Police Squad used to make fun of where someone says something funny at the end, everyone laughs, freeze frame.

The Ripley Factor:
The movie reports on true life events that happened to men so doesn’t really involve many women. (This is actually becoming a bit of a trend for Tom Hanks with this, Bridge of Spies and Captain Phillips.) Laura Linney is good as his wife on the end of the phone but she doesn’t get a huge amount to do. The female flight crew come over as courageous but they are also pretty marginal. It is nice that when other pilots are seen flying simulations of the broken jet two of them are women but this does feel a little like tokenism.

Is this one for the kids?
Sully: Miracle on the Hudson is rated 12A. There is a small amount of swearing and, as you would expect, some scenes of sustained peril.

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