‘Everything is unprecedented until it happens for the first time’ and the unexpected certainly happened to US Airways Flight 1549 piloted by Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger on January 15, 2009.
The Airbus A320 Sully and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles were taking on what should have been a routine flight, within minutes of take off from Le Guardia airport in New York was crippled at a low altitude following a catastrophic bird strike, suffering double engine failure, an event which had never happened before.
The professionalism of both Sully and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles ensured that having all their passengers rescued would be the best possible outcome.
It was also the best possible news New Yorkers had heard in a long time, certainly about an accident with an airplane in it, the results of 9/11 still a vivid memory in the life of the city.
SULLY- a film directed by Clint Eastwood featuring Tom Hanks as Sully and Aaron Lockhart as Skiles showcases how the captain called upon his four decades of flight experience to make an audacious decision to land flight 1549 successfully on the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 people on board.
SULLY wrote himself into the annals of aviation history, as in his own words he ‘did his job’, which made it even more poignant if possible. With extensive knowledge of flying a diverse range of aircraft, he knew how a crippled plane felt and he reacted accordingly.
That his decision would be called into question by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) was far from his mind.
This movie is all about unassuming heroism of the very best kind and the recreation of the plane coming down on the Hudson is the star attraction.
It was the middle of winter and the temperature on and in the water all but freezing.
The film brings home just how precarious their position was. It’s an extraordinary sight seeing everyone line up on the wings of the plane while they await rescue by watercraft.
This is an image those who saw it as it was happening, would ever forget.
We don’t get to know many of the passengers well, with Clint Eastwood spotlighting the crew, a mother and her baby, a father and his two grown sons who are separated, a woman and her ailing mother.
However it does mean we have some people to look for as they evacuate the plane, which takes centre stage as it slowly begins to sink with everyone clinging to the wings and slides like a giant life raft.
Then there is the air traffic controller who after the plane disappears off his scope is locked up in a room where he imagines the worst and that his career is over because he was unable to help and guide the plane to safety.
We feel his relief as he is released and exonerated and then disbelief as Sully and Skiles are put on notice to reconcile their decisions.
SULLY ran the full length of the plane three times to ensure everyone had managed to get out and in the days following the crash, he deals with nightmares and visions of what may have happened if he had crashed in the middle of the city.
We only get to know his wife Lorraine (Laura Linney) on the end of a phone where she’s also dealing with the aftermath of the landing and what is happening on her front lawn at home. No wonder she was nervous, as reporters frantically clamour to capture a headline.
Then there are those working in offices over looking the Hudson on the day it happened, as the noise of the close proximity of an aeroplane nearby to tall buildings, once again re-engaged their fears of imminent tragedy.
When Sully’s co-pilot Jeff Skiles was asked was there anything they would have done differently, he indicated wryly he would choose to land on the Hudson in summer rather than winter if it was to happen again.
SULLY as the emergency progressed kept amazingly calm and with great composure from the point where the unfortunate geese were sucked into its engines at 2,800 feet above La Guardia, until he brought the craft down, it was astonishing to find out that only 208 seconds went by.
Knowing this fact makes the whole event all the more remarkable, especially when you discover all that went on afterwards as his decision was called into question by officials operating on theoretical information.
However, as most people who have left the halls of learning where theories abound discover, out here in the real world theory and practice are often poles apart, especially when you have to add in the human factor.
Clint Eastwood balances the action with the investigation that followed well as he presents a portrait of Sully’s fortitude and fearlessness in the face of those questioning his decisions. This was a battle between humankind and technology and it’s good to know the people won out.
Tom Hanks as SULLY delivers another fine understated performance, allowing us to forget we’re watching an actor; such is his ability to allow us to connect with him as one of us.
Snowy white hair and moustache lend gravitas to his countenance, as he portrays with pathos a man confident in his abilities and yet humble in his actions.
These are qualities Hollywood living legend Clint Eastwood as a director also admires and he delivers Sully without fuss.
Jogging around New York before and after the crash, Sully’s a lone figure as Clint explores his central character’s psyche, highlighted by piano music, simple and sparing in its conception.
Tom Hanks exudes quiet authority with great dignity of self and a respect for others that is humbling.
He has that ‘can do’ American attitude infused into his psyche in abundance and certainly to my mind he was the perfect choice to play Sully. He is after all the actor we would all likely trust to be piloting a plane we’re travelling on.
The now well-known story of the emergency landing on the Hudson is told in a series of flashbacks.
All in all we see the landing about six times, each time building our own astonishment at the amazing feat of landing on the glassy Hudson River surface as if it was for all the world an airport asphalt runway.
It was sheer luck there was already a ferry on the water steaming towards the place where flight 1549 came down, as the Hudson is such a vast body of water.
The captain of the ferry called for a quick response from NYPD and other rescue services, as within 24 minutes, New York rapidly came to the aid of the captain, his crew and passengers.
Becoming known as a hero and ‘a man for all time’ requires that the person in question burden a great emotional responsibility, rise to the occasion when it is important and demanded of them, and above all win out against all the odds.
Captain Cool Chesley “SULLY” Sullenberger certainly came top of his class as he pulled off the impossible, a ‘miracle’ on the Hudson.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016
Watch the Trailer