Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 95 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 14+. The film about the emergency landing of a commercial airplane on the Hudson River includes some frightening imagery in the form of nightmares and daydreams in which the plane didn’t successfully land, but crashed in New York City, exploding into fire and killing everyone on board; those images are evocative of Sept. 11, 2001, and are undoubtedly troubling. The water landing itself is also fairy stressful, and could be scary for viewers of all ages. Also some cursing.
‘Sully’ is the kind of American story that director Clint Eastwood loves to tell, of individual heroes facing off against misguided bureaucratic judgment. Tom Hanks’s haunted, evocative performance elevates the film to a level of humanity that is life-affirming.
By Roxana Hadadi
Tom Hanks is almost always the best part of the films in which he stars: His performance centered the chaos of “Captain Phillips,” he brought charm to “Saving Mr. Banks,” and he was a steadying presence in “Bridge of Spies.” In “Sully,” director Clint Eastwood’s biopic of Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, Hanks works the same magic, elevating a film that sometimes trips over its own black-and-white version of reality.
Hanks’s portrayal of Sully as an honest, precise man shocked by the whirlwind of attention surrounding him after he lands U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River gives the film the baseline it needs as it jumps around various time periods and locations. Eastwood makes the film a fairly straightforward “American hero vs. American bureaucracies” dichotomy, and that rigid understanding of the scrutiny faced by Sully after the landing feels a little potboiled.
But Hanks is such a national treasure at this point, so beloved as our cinematic everyman, that we would be rooting for him in “Sully” even without Eastwood’s undermining of regulatory policies and procedures. This is the kind of controlled, measured performance that shows why Hanks is always so perfectly cast as one of the best of us. He makes you ache for righteousness and justice in a way that seems fundamental to the American experience.
“Sully” focuses on the events of January 15, 2009, and their immediate aftermath. On that day, the flight captained by Sully and First Officer Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart, of “I, Frankenstein”) seemed normal, but only a few minutes into their cruising over New York City, a “bird strike”—birds crashing into the plane—caused both engines to fail.
With the airplane barely functioning, Sully made the decision to land it in the frigid, icy Hudson River, refusing to chance a return to LaGuardia or to any other airports. “This is your captain speaking—brace for impact,” he tells the 154 other people on the plane, and the terror of the situation is effectively conveyed by Eastwood, who places us on the plane over and over again as Sully runs through in his mind what could have gone differently.
Because that’s the thing—everyone survives, and Sully is hailed as a hero by those onboard and by the people of New York City, whose first responders arrived on the scene and helped usher everyone to safety. But the National Transportation Safety Board is all over Sully, both for the loss of the U.S. Airways plane in the Hudson and because they insist that he was wrong about the plane losing both engines and could have safely returned to LaGuardia.
Their investigation puts Sully’s career on the line and his 40 years of flying into question. “It’s not a crash, it was a forced water landing,” Sully tells them, but will the NTSB understand that?
Eastwood doesn’t really do subtlety, and so the NTSB investigators are portrayed as practical-to-a-fault, emotionless government agents, twisting the truth to paint Sully as a villain. Why they want to do this is never really explored because the film spends so much time in Sully’s head, but Hanks effectively portrays a man torn apart by the situation he’s in but definitively sure, because of years of experience and knowledge, that what he did was right. “I did the best I could,” Sully says, and the simplicity of that statement—the undeniable humanity of it—will get to you.
Aside from Hanks’s stellar performance, “Sully” gets the job done. It reminds us of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, with Sully’s nightmares of the plane crashing into the heart of New York City, but it spreads the responsibility for the success of Flight 1549 by highlighting the police, Coast Guard, ferry captains, and other city workers who came together to save the passengers from freezing in the Hudson River. We can all be good, “Sully” argues, as long as we do our jobs and do them well. That’s a simplistic way of looking at life, but for 95 minutes, it works.
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