On January 15th, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 made a crash landing into the Hudson River after losing both of its engines.  Piloted by Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, all 155 passengers survived the incident and the crew were hailed as heroes.  I remember the incident vividly to this day.
Sully attempts to bring the story of Sullenberger and the infamous flight to life on a big screen.  Tom Hanks is outstanding in the title role and the crash is amazing to watch on screen.  Sully shows the strength of the human spirit in those sequences.  However, the odd tone the film takes is a little off putting.
The film succeeds due to the care taken to portray Sullenberger as a real human being.  He is both utterly confident and humble in equal doses.  A character like this is hard to portray onscreen because it seems so unrealistic.  But Hanks makes us believe in Sully.  We see the conviction in his face when Sully believes absolutely in his decision to make a water landing.   And it is equally believable when we see that same face twist in anguish when the NTSB tells him that he might have been wrong.
With all the love that Hanks will undoubtedly receive for his performance, Aaron Eckhart should also be singled out.  Playing co-pilot Jeff Skiles, Eckhart is more outwardly passionate than Hanks’ Sully.  It’s a welcome change of pace as he seems to serve as an audience surrogate.  He recognizes how amazing the situation truly is.   On the other hand, Laura Linney is somewhat wasted as Sully’s wife Lorraine.  While she is solid, she only appears occasionally.
Sully constantly reminds the audience that Sullenberger has spent most of his life in the air through a number of flashbacks.  He has always kept his cool under pressure as a matter of fact, so much so that he has to be reminded to smile at one point.  He is a professional through and through, a man simply doing his job…who can’t like a character like that?
The infamous crash itself is truly harrowing to watch on screen.  And the aftermath of the crash as common people and first responders rushed to the scene is truly inspiring.  Each of these people is never given a name or a backstory.  They are simply people going about their business.  The fact that they are seemingly anonymous is perfect.
They are simply part of humanity.  They see their fellow man in trouble and they go to to help.  There are no questions.  There are no worries about the safety of each individual rescuer.  People need help and they will do it.  The same is done for the passengers aboard the plane.  While there is understandable panic, they come together to help each other.  I actually teared up at the sequence.
However, that is the only time I truly felt anything during Sully.  The film seems to take on Sully’s straightforward and calm approach, creating a strangely calm tone throughout.  It’s a sterile, step by step procedural worthy of a cable television film, not a big screen experience.   It’s troubling that a film about “Miracle on the Hudson” seems to be devoid of any emotion outside of the crash landing.  Melodrama isn’t necessary, but the film seriously needed someone to breath life into it.
The question of Sully’s decision making is a puzzling choice as well.  The “Miracle” is only seven years old so a lot of the drama from the NTSB Investigation is somewhat undercut.  Unless you have been living under a rock the past few years, you know that Sully is considered a hero.  The whole investigation drama seems a bit out of place.
Sully is a film about how humanity comes together when we need to help each other.  It’s a great message to have in these divisive times and I believe it’s no accident that this film’s release falls on weekend of September 11th.  Those moments on the Hudson are amazing to see and that alone makes the film worth seeing.  However, the film’s seeming lack of passion for anything else nearly collapses the whole story.
Score: 6.5 out of 10