'Sully' could have flown or sunk- instead it just floated along

Posted September 19

Tom Hanks as Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger in “Sully." (Deseret Photo)

MOVIE LAND — As a rule, I prefer to go into a movie knowing as little about it as possible. This way I get to experience the story as the director has designed it to unfold. This time was a little more difficult as I was somewhat familiar with the events that took place on Jan. 15, 2009.

On the afternoon of Jan. 15, US Airways flight 1549 piloted by Chesley “Sully” Sulenberger was forced to make an emergency water landing on the Hudson River after a bird strike took out both engines. Miraculously, everybody onboard survived.

This story played out in real time as it was happening and continued to be played over and over on the news for days, if not weeks, afterword. It was hard to not have some knowledge of what happened, and at the time, I recall thinking, “Wow, those guys are lucky.” I was thankful that it ended so well, but that was about all I thought of it.

Now seven years later, director Clint Eastwood has brought us a movie giving the firsthand account of the crash as experienced from Captain "Sully" Sullenberger’s perspective. The movie is based on Chesley B. Sulenberger's book “Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters.”

As with all stories like this one, there is always a lot more to it than most people appreciate, and that's why I believe they are chosen to be made into films. This film takes us beyond the initial terrifying 208 seconds it took for the plane to crash, and directly into the lives of Captain Sullenberger, played by Tom Hanks, and his first officer Jeffery Skiles, played by Aaron Eckhart, after the events of the water landing.

The real story takes place after the crash landing, but I will leave that for you to discover as you watch the movie, provided you have not already read the book.

Although the movie was entertaining and well done, I was left feeling a little flat at the end and didn’t understand why.

Here's what worked, what didn’t and why it left me feeling kind of “meh.”

What worked:

The telling of the story was thorough and interesting. Clint Eastwood did a great job of capturing the circumstances as they happened and translating them visually. We get a great sense of what it was like to be in the plane as it went down, from not only the perspective of the captain and the passengers, but also of those that were investigating the crash.

The story went beyond the crash and made the human component relatable as it applied to the resultant doubts and second guessing experienced by Captain Sully after the wreck.

The movie did a great job preserving the tension through to the end of the film when things finally begin to resolve and questions are answered.

What did not work:

This was not the most exciting captain role that Tom Hanks has ever played. It may seem weird that I'm even comparing roles that Hanks has played as a captain, but he has been a captain in so many movies. Don’t get me wrong — Hanks is solid in any role he plays, but it is hard not to compare his performances from one role to another, especially as I think of his portrayal of Richard Phillips in the movie “Captain Phillips.”

One scene in particular that comes to mind from his "Captain Phillips" role was when Hanks was taken aboard the navy vessel after his ordeal. That was some of the best acting I have ever seen from anyone. I know, I know it’s all apples to oranges and it’s not like he is playing the same person in every movie, but it does seem strange he would choose yet another role as captain that we can use to compare.

There were so many flashbacks in this movie I got lost in the timeline. At times, I would forget I was even in a flashback until he came out of it, only to go into a new one a short time later. I think this underlies a bigger problem, which is that the movie probably could have been told in an hour, but Clint Eastwood needed to stretch it to at least 90 minutes. The result is that we got to see the crash sequence multiple times and most of them were in the form of a flashback somebody was experiencing.

It reminded me of the movie “Funny Farm” when Chevy Chase’s wife flipped out because the novel he was writing had too many flashbacks, flashforwards and flashsideways.

I also had a hard time relating to the specific personal stories of any of the passengers. This would have been more effective since at the root of Captain Sully’s dilemma was the welfare of his passengers. There was one overacted attempt by two sons and an elderly father on a golf vacation, but that just felt forced in the end.


Overall, this is a good movie and the story is well told. There were a few things that could have been done better to contribute to the overall emotion of it and its characters.

I would recommend this movie to anyone interested in the real story of flight 1549 or anyone who is looking to feel good when they walk out of a movie. Just don’t expect to care much about the movie itself later.

Clint Eastwood has directed some of my favorite movies like “Million Dollar Baby” and “Firefox,” but this isn’t going to stand out to me a few years down the road like many of his other films.


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