You may remember the real life “Miracle on the Hudson” from the news reports of the time, when on January 15, 2009 Captain “Sully” Sullenberger (played in this film by Tom Hanks) landed his badly damaged plane in New York’s Hudson River in freezing temperatures, saving the lives of all 155 aboard. Both engines of the plane had failed due to a flock of birds colliding with them.
The fact that the story is so well known presented director Clint Eastwood with a bit of a problem. As everyone, at least in America, would remember the original story, a straightforward retelling of it would just be a bit of a “hero of the week” exercise. But then he and his screenwriter Todd Komarnicki discovered from their research the lesser known part of the story – that while Sully was being hailed as a hero, he was under investigation for his actions by the National Transportation Safety Board – an investigation which could have ended his career.
It is that investigation which the film hones in on, which is reminiscent in some ways of footage we’ve seen of Hoover’s communist witch hunt trials, though perhaps not quite so brutal. It does though point up the blame culture in which we live. The board describes the event as a crash; Sully argues it was an emergency landing. As is pointed out by Sully’s lawyer, if Sully had gone by the book and returned to La Guardia, as the board’s computer simulators indicate he could have done, the airline would have been covered by insurance. The implication is, if they can blame Sully for a mistake, they would presumably be off the hook. But as Sully points out, computer simulations don’t allow for the human element of making the best decision under pressure which is more likely to save lives.
While the investigation is itself dramatic, although at times a touch pedestrian, some way into the film we do get to see the actual crash in an extended flashback and it is indeed gripping. The build up to the emergency landing, the evacuation of the passengers into the icy waters of the Hudson and the swift rescue operation mounted by the ferry boats and the police – “New York’s finest”, as described by the hyped up television reporters. It’s a dramatic lesson in why those lectures by the stewards on every flight about what to do in an emergency are actually important.
Tom Hanks with hair and moustache whitened to resemble the real Sully and with 36 years experience as a film actor behind him, does a fine job of carrying the film. Aaron Eckhart as his co-pilot and Laura Linney as his wife lend solid support but it is very much Hanks’s film. Eckhart does though get to say the very last line in the movie – and it’s a good one.
Review by Carol Allen