‘Airport’, ‘Airplane’, ‘United 93’, ‘Alive’, ‘Snakes on a plane’, ‘Die Hard 2’. All films which you’ll never find on your in-flight movie list for any airline. And the latest you can add to that list is Clint Eastwood’s , ‘Sully’ because you’re as likely to see this on a flight as the Editor putting his hand in his pocket when it’s his round at The Nags Head pub. If you’re in any doubt as to why then the tone is set from the very beginning when Tom Hanks as pilot struggles to maintain height and land safely as his aircraft loses altitude and flies perilously low through a New York’s Manhattan cityscape. It’s an unsettling opening to the film and perhaps for some may be too reminiscent of the 9/11 footage but it becomes a constant reference throughout out the film.
The plot has Tom Hanks in the title role as real life airline captain Sully an abbreviation of his actual name Sullenburger and who must be grateful that his name isn’t Constable. Here Hanks is silver haired and sporting a moustache which seems to be a job requirement if the rest of the pilots are anything to go by (Aaron Eckhart sports a moustache so bushy it should be sweeping leaves off driveways) and all seems well before the doomed plane is hit by a flock of birds and promptly shredded in the engines and in turn shred the engines causing Hanks the dilemma as to whether to turn back to the airport to land if they can make it that far or make a forced emergency landing in the river – an extremely dangerous manouevre which could end in fatality for everyone but ultimately is the option he elects. It such a well know story having only occurred in 2009 that what happens is never in doubt with all surviving and Sully rightly praised. Except by the investigators who seem determined to prove he was negligent and should have turned back and saved the plane itself. It’s a sad indictment on society that the plane was of more value than the lives of the passengers and crew and this seems to have been driven by the insurance company inevitably keen not to have to pay out for the destroyed plane and to avoid doing this they’re angling for the blame to be put on pilot error. It’s this crisis of confidence in having made his decision that haunts Sully throughout causing him nightmarish flashbacks and knowing that despite his impeccable record he risks losing everything and the simulator tests prove increasingly damning of his actions. It’s this quest for blame that is the crux of the film.
At 86 years old this is Clint Eastwood’s 68th directing job if you include his early TV work and is as confident as you would expect from the icon and is a testament to the professionalism of both the ground staff (especially an air traffic controller consumed with guilt as to what he thinks has happened) as well as the cabin crew. Even though Eastwood has all but retired from acting(his last lead role was in 2012’s ‘Trouble with the Curve’) he still manages to put in a cameo albeit as a poster for his last great film, ‘Gran Torino’).
But as ever this is really a Tom Hanks film who once again is typically cast in the Everyman role as the real life Sully who seems impossible to dislike and astonishingly modest emphasised by the end title sequence where he’s reunited with the real life passengers understandably piling praise on his undoubtedly vast experience that saved their lives. It’s a decent story well told but ultimately with Hanks in such a role you’ll always be rooting for him and without him this would have been a TV movie of the week and though the flight is well known the result of the investigation is not and an actor such as, say, Gary Sinise or Willem Dafoe, there perhaps would have been more doubt as to the result. As such you know how it must end but then if you’re a nervous flyer then this is probably best seen after your flight.
Here’s the trailer…….