Film review: Natalie Stendall’s verdict Sully - Miracle On The Hudson

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When captain Chesley Sullenberger landed a damaged airliner on the Hudson river without a single fatality he became a hero, writes Natalie Stendall.

Behind the scenes, an inquiry began. Did Sully and his co-pilot ignore an option which some experts claimed was plausible? Could they have landed the plane at the nearby LaGuardia airport?

It was only a matter of time before Hollywood turned Sully’s story into a film.

Directed by Clint Eastwood, Sully: Miracle On The Hudson combines a gripping re-enactment of the plane’s emergency landing with a solid character study.

Screenwriter Todd Komarnicki (Resistance, Perfect Stranger) anchors the film around the inquiry, exploring Sully’s reaction both to the hero status of his instant fame and the professional criticism directed at him behind closed doors in the landing’s immediate aftermath.

Aside from a few flashbacks to Sully’s formative years, namely his experience in the Air Force, the story is a compact one.

Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, American Sniper) keeps the runtime to a mere 96 minutes limiting the space in which sentimentality can creep in.

It’s a shrewd decision. Komarnicki’s screenplay invites us to view the event from multiple perspectives, including those of a handful of passengers who are, rather regrettably, reduced to banal stereotypes (the late arrivals, the mother and child).

It’s here where Sully comes closest to the mushy and saccharine but Eastwood never quite allows Sully to spill over. The film’s insight into air traffic control is more rewarding and it remains the only element of Komarnicki’s comprehensive screenplay that might benefit from a closer look.

The trouble with Sully’s structure - its cutting back and forth between memories - is its tendency towards repetition. Eastwood ekes out every last moment of exhilaration from the emergency landing sequence delivering a condensed version first only to be followed by another, elucidated one later. It’s so impeccably rendered, staving off sensationalism, that we can almost forgive him.

The film’s addition of imagined, alternative consequences of the event - planes crashing into skyscrapers - is arguably a step too far, but one that bluntly hammers home the context of Sully’s remarkable decision in a city still reeling from 9/11.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that the jewel in Sully’s crown is Tom Hanks, perfectly cast as the captain and giving the role all its necessary gravitas.

Hanks has single-handedly rescued much weaker films than this and he keeps us riveted throughout Sully’s most repetitive sequences.

He’s joined by Aaron Eckhart as Sully’s capable and loyal co-pilot Jeff Skiles and the charismatic duo succeed in pulling themes of fame, heroism and professional duty even from the film’s most thinly-written scenes.

Sully is something of a rarity in Hollywood: a disaster movie without a single death. There’s a refreshing breath of hope and celebration in this good news story that even the most cynical audience will find hard to dislike.

4/5

Sully: Miracle On The Hudson is on general release from December 2 and is showing at Broadway Nottingham and Derby Quad from December 16