This year I decided to buy a ticket to one of the hottest events at the London Film Festival, the Surprise Film. It’s ironic that one the screenings most people are keen to attend is the one where you have no idea what film you are going to see until it begins! It was a fantastic cinema experience as the audience speculated as to what film we’d see.
In the end the choice this year divided the audience as to whether it was a worthy Surprise Film. Some see it as an opportunity to showcase a film that perhaps won’t otherwise have as large a profile, while others expect to see something not yet on wide release. This year’s choice was Sully, which has already opened in most markets outside the UK. However, despite the disappointment of many, I was pleased it was a movie that had been on my to-see list, primarily due to its lead actor and overall it was an enjoyable cinema trip for me.
As for the film itself, Sully is the story behind 2009’s incredible landing of Flight 1549 on the Hudson River, mere minutes after take-off after a flock of geese flew in to both its engines. The event received worldwide attention, with universal praise given to Captain Chesley Sullenberger, whose quick actions miraculously meant that all 155 people on board the aircraft survived.
Like most of us, I’d heard about it on the news and marvelled at the incredible achievement of this pilot. However, I had not known about what happened afterwards and this film, directed by Clint Eastwood, focuses on the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB’s) investigation which, with an aircraft written off at great expense to the airline, was looking to apportion blame to the captain. Everyone may have survived, but was his decision not to try and make it to an airport correct or was he reckless with the lives of his passengers and crew and responsible for the loss of the plane?
Sully is a fairly mainstream movie, but that isn’t necessarily a criticism. I can’t see it winning any big awards, but it is still an enjoyable film. One of its weaknesses is the fact that there isn’t too much of a story to tell, as unlike in a documentary film, delving in to the detail of the 18 month NTSB investigation in to Sully’s actions that morning, wouldn’t have worked. Therefore the film does at times feel a bit padded and repetitive, as we see the landing in the river more than once and scenes in which Sully remembers the events and later the listening to the cockpit recording are practically the same.
However, with such a strong leading man in the title role, the film is given an extra weight that it may not otherwise have had. I’ve always loved Tom Hanks and he never disappoints in terms of giving a believable and human performance, which always brings the character to life so vividly. The fact that here he is playing a real person means this is even more important. Through him we see the toll the experience put on Sully; if the lead up to and landing weren’t traumatic enough, he then had to endure the accusations and insinuations afterwards, during which his career, pension and reputation were at stake, while trying to cope with PTSD (scenes in which he dreams of the plane crashing in to buildings are quite harrowing). I admit watching the events unfold made me incredibly angry at how this decent man was treated!
Aaron Eckhart is also great as First Officer Jeffrey Skiles, who remains a loyal and staunch friend and colleague throughout, as the only other person to truly know what it was like in the cockpit that day. Eckhart said a few words after the screening about how Sully had been with them every step during the making of the film and how it was an aspect of the miracle on the Hudson River that he too hadn’t been aware of. The rest of the cast have very little to play with in terms of material and so talent such as Laura Linney (who plays Sully’s wife) are left feeling rather wasted.
Visually, the effects are very good and it’s incredibly chilling to watch an aircraft fly so close to Manhattan and you can imagine how those witnessing it at the time would have felt. Indeed a scene in which we see people’s reactions as the plane appears was quite unnerving. Director Clint Eastwood also successfully managed to create dramatic tension in scenes in which the audience knows there is going to be a happy ending. You are aware everyone survived Flight 1549, however the moments on board the flight and the immediate aftermath as the passengers rush to escape the plane as it fills with water are no less frightening, as you can’t help but imagine yourself in that situation.
It’s also a lovely touch to involve so many of the real people who were there, as Eckhart told us after the film that all of the coastguard and crew of the vessels that go to the plane’s aid are played by the actual individuals who helped Flight 1549. It’s clearly a very personal film for those involved, highlighted by the end credits, which include the actual passengers and crew, gathered at the Carolinas Aviation Museum (where the aircraft is on display), whose close bond is evident.
No, this isn’t a classic film, nor one that is destined for high acclaim. It is however a very well made and strongly acted story of something that should be more widely known and hopefully now Sully’s position as a true hero cannot be denied.
Sully opens in the UK on 2nd December 2016. Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/mjKEXxO2KNE