86-year-old director Clint Eastwood spent just a few hours talking to the real Chesley Sullenberger in the living room of his home and departed with a vision of how he wanted to portray the “Miracle on the Hudson” (January 15, 2009).
Clint masterfully hit the crux of the situation dead center. The Miracle had much more to do than the nuts and bolts of handling an aircraft in adverse circumstances. It had everything to do with Sullenberger’s depth of training and experience. Mastering any number of very precise conditions needed to be addressed accurately over a very short 208 seconds with no way to have known the right course. It then had to do with all those in the area of this forced landing that stopped in mid-stride without hesitation to assist in the rescue, 24 minutes. A coming together of the tribes in the truest sense.
The real meat of the film, and the experience, not widely publicized, was the aftermath of the inevitable National Transportation Safety Board (NSTB) investigation as to the circumstances of the event. Captain Sullenberger clearly saved 155 lives, but could he have saved the aircraft as well? Several computer simulations showed he could have made it back to LaGuardia had he persisted rather than “we’re in the Hudson!”. Saving an expensive aircraft of great interest to US Airways.
This issue becomes the focal point of the film and Clint Eastwood scrutinizes it well, if not a bit laconically. It becomes clear that in any decision anywhere about anything, there are always alternative explanations as to the “right thing”. It also becomes clear that in the end, human judgment is a quality that cannot be second-guessed by technology. A theme that recurs in professions other than piloting.
A human decision is what it is and would be difficult or impossible to dissect unless the observer was in place while the decision was made. Clint very strongly feels that a second guess of a human decision by cold technology rigged by nerds is a very, very dangerous thing and he makes no bones about criticizing it on screen. Without giving you any spoilers, I would say masterfully as Mr. Eastwood’s stature as a director would mandate.
The story line moves along impeccably, just the right amount of visual input to yield just the right amount of audience discomfort, not overbearing. Tom Hanks is simply magnificent in this outstanding film. Maybe a little too laconic in his affect but he can be forgiven for this minor gaffe. Aaron Eckhart’s understated performance was exceptional. The traumatized air-traffic controller who blames himself for the crash was wonderful. At the end of this film, the entire audience in the theater broke into spontaneous applause.
“Sully” is why we go to movies. We’re masterfully allowed to feel what it’s like to be part of a life threatening dilemma. we can briefly live the captivating lives of others. This film is a near perfect such experience.
I give it four and a half “Sully” drinks, (Grey Goose with a splash of water).