Sometimes “based on a true story” movies can lack a little something, because we already know how it’s going to end. Most of us saw the plane sitting on the Hudson River, with cold and shivering people standing on its wings. We saw interviews with Captain Sullenberg (“Sully”). So can this movie manage to make us interested, if we already know the ending?
In 2009, a flock of birds flew into a plane that was leaving New York City and caused both engines to go out. The pilot, Captain Chesley Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) made a decision to go for a water landing in the middle of the Hudson River. He was alongside his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart). Most of this movie takes place in the aftermath of this incident, as an investigation begins to see if Sully actually put all these lives in danger unnecessarily. This committee consists of Mike O’Malley (Glee), Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad), and several others you might recognize. We also have Sully’s wife (Laura Linney) who is scared at home, while he’s undergoing these investigations. The movie is directed by Clint Eastwood.
The movie is entirely carried by Tom Hanks and (as usual), he nails it. With each movie he puts out, it reminds you that he is likely the best actor living today, debatably. He becomes Captain Sullenberger here, with a bit of a twist on the classic Tom Hanks “Good Guy” role. It’s a twist because Sully doesn’t know if he’s a good guy. The entire movie is him questioning whether his choices endangered all these people. He’s a good guy that thinks he might’ve done something wrong. It’s an interesting spin.
Hanks is supported by Aaron Eckhart, who also delivers a great performance, though isn’t really fleshed out beyond just this incident. Does he have a family? We don’t really ever know. Eckhart still does his best though, offering some levity to an otherwise serious film.
Like I mentioned in the intro, we know the ending. This movie plays it smart and it literally opens with the stuff we know. Surprisingly, there was a lot I didn’t know and this investigation, which is the entirety of the film, focuses on things that we didn’t really see covered in the news, meaning there was still a sense of uncertainty. I was on the edge of my seat for several moments, unsure what would happen.
The movie also smartly uses the landing several times, including focusing on some of the passengers and how they react to the landing and to Sully’s choices. Even though these characters were only in a few scenes, they managed to evoke real emotion and even had me choking up a bit. It added some real depth that I appreciated.
What didn’t work?
On a very basic level, not a lot happens in this movie. It’s literally just a few days of investigation, with a few flashbacks thrown in. That means some of you might find it a little dull, but the movie’s use of the water landing often shook up the movie enough that I never found myself bored.
I also had a bit of a problem with Sully’s wife, played by Laura Linney. She doesn’t share a scene with anyone, in the entire movie. It’s just her, on the phone with Sully. It almost serves as exposition, so he can explain to her how the investigation is going or what’s really happening. It just felt like a very one-dimensional character really only serving as a sounding board for Sully.
While the movie isn’t very eventful, I still found myself enthralled. It’s a new side of the story that the mainstream media didn’t cover, so you’ll likely still find yourself on the edge of your seat awaiting the verdict. Hanks and Eckhart both give great performances and, if we have a weak Oscar season, might see themselves as nominees for their work here. The performances and an intriguing new side of a very familiar event both contributed to me really liking this movie and I think most viewers would agree.