Movie Review: “Sully”

Based on true events, Sully follows the story of Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the heroic captain who was able to safely land a damaged plane in the Hudson River without losing a single life. On January 15th, 2009, Sullenberger took off with co-pilot Jeff Skiles from LaGuardia airport heading for Charlotte, North Carolina. Shortly after take off, a large flock of Candian geese came in front the plane and after the collision had rendered the engines destroyed. Due to the quick thinking of Captain Sullenberger and Co-pilot Skiles, the plane was safely landed in the Hudson River. And due to the quick response of paramedics and safety units, no lives were lost in the water landing.

Directed by Clint Eastwood, Tom Hanks stars as Captain Sullenberger and Aaron Eckhart as Jeff Skiles, as well as Laura Linney as Sullenberger’s wife. Undoubtedly, the casting of Hanks and Eckhart was the correct choice. Hanks is a notedly fantastic actor, and his ability to translate the intensity of the situation to the viewer is quite remarkable.  I will be honest, when I first started watching the film I thought, “How in the hell is this movie gonna last 90 minutes without dragging it out?” Because while there are many nuances to the situation, I figured: the plane is going to crash, plane crashes, everyone lives, end of story.  But there is decidedly more depth to be had, particularly the aftermath. While I see this as, “Wow, everyone lived. That’s so great!”, the investigatory organizations are more about, “You trashed a plane, dude.”  Sad, but I suppose that is how insurance and investigations have to function. 

The real Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger

The media, of course, embraced the actions of the pilots as heroic. No one died in the crash, and that is a huge deal. Particularly for water landings, which if not done properly will cause massive destruction to the plane which will then rapidly fill with water. So you’ll drown, or die of hypothermia. But Sullenberger being an experienced pilot having flown for almost 30 years, had the ability to land the plane so that water coming in was minimal and gave the time for passengers to exit the sinking plane. The investigation, however, did not feel the same way. Many simulations were done and concluded that Sullenberger could have returned to an airport without risking either the destruction of the plane or the lives of everyone on board. But after paying attention to the simulations, Sullenberger quickly discovers the missing human factor. Meaning every pilot running simulations had previously been informed to immediately to head to an airport and in simulations, hile there is some stress factor, it does not come close to the stress of the actual situation and trying to make lightning fast decisions. Once the simulations allotted approximately 30 seconds of calculation time, it was determined the plane could not have safely returned to an airport and would have easily claimed the lives of those on board and most likely civilians on the ground. The choices and actions of Captain Sullenberger were, in fact, the only logical solution.

The actions of the plane began with takeoff at 3:24:56 pm EST, and the birds flew through the engines (which are not designed to be able to handle geese, hence the massive destruction) at 3:27:11 pm. At 3:27:33 pm, Captain Sullenberger radioed distress call to air traffic control, and they attempted to get the plane to a runway, which Sullenberger responded ‘unable.’  At 3:31 pm, the plane was in the river. Water temperatures of approximately 40 degrees and an air temperature of around 19 degrees, meant that hypothermia would likely cause deaths. Due to the quick response of New York safety teams, the last passenger was removed from the plane at 3:55 pm. From take-off to crash to rescue, the events of US Airways Flight 1549 took half an hour. Imagine that? Half an hour…


While I still feel it is an odd moment to make a movie of (but that is Hollywood’s prerogative), I cannot deny that Sully is a powerful movie.  Hanks and Eckhart brilliantly portray two men grasping quickly at options to save the lives of all 155 souls aboard the plane. And they will likely be regarded as heroes forever.  At least to the rest of those on board. The intensity and emotion brought by both men show not only the attempt to remain calm in the face of panic but the aftermath of such an event and that even if no one died, that kind of trauma can remain with you.  I highly recommend this for a family film night, and the chance to appreciate that at times the things you love most can be ripped away in a moment. Unless Sullenberger is your captain.

See it all unfold for yourself when Sully debuts on HBO on Saturday, May 6 at 8:20pm. 

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