MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Clint Eastwood. Starring Tom Hanks, Laura Linney.
It is a rare and beautiful thing to find a film with a message that is so positive, life-affirming and selfless that you just have to give it five halos before the viewing. But that’s just the thing about US Airways Flight 1549 pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Hanks) – he’s just that kind of a hero. On a very cold January morning in 2009, just two minutes after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport, his plane came into direct contact with a flock of geese that flew into both jet engines, knocking out the power and requiring quick thinking to avert a major crash. Sully discerned that a return flight to the airport was going to be impossible and decided to attempt a water landing in the Hudson River, an emergency tactic that had never been tried, with no guarantee of success. Along with co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) and a flight crew that was able to control the passengers with efficiency, this nearly-impossible feat was accomplished, with every person on board saved. According to National Transportation Safety Board member Kitty Higgins this was the “most successful ditching in aviation history”. This event became known as “The Miracle on the Hudson”.
That’s the great story and message behind “Sully”. And then there’s the movie itself.
Sully features another great performance by Tom Hanks, who is able to capture the quiet dignity of Sullenberger as well as his humility and his inner struggles during the mandatory flight investigation of the NTSB following the emergency landing. Aaron Eckhart also gives a good performance as his sidekick/wingman.
But overall I found this film to be a fairly tedious 96 minutes for many reasons. The screenplay by Todd Komarnicki is mediocre at best, with only Sully and Skiles presented as flesh-and-blood characters. The film wants to show us Sully’s marriage as a strong union (Laura Linney plays his wife) put under stress during the investigation, but never gives us family scenes with the two of them together, opting instead to show us a series of long distance phone calls. The film is filled with flashbacks that are too brief to matter, including pre-flight scenes of several passengers that might be appropriate in one of the many “Airport” movies of the seventies, but of no particular substance here.
The flight sequence itself is well filmed, but director Clint Eastwood interrupts the initial presentation with flash-forward scenes that take the edge off the drama. It is not until the last 15 minutes of the film when we get to see this event uninterrupted– but there is nothing added of real substance.
The investigation by the NTSB is presented in a fashion that pits the agency against Sully, questioning the veracity of his claims. And yet, isn’t this what the NTSB is supposed to do? Could we accept a flight industry that wouldn’t investigate crashes?
I spoke recently with a friend who enjoyed the movie. I pointed out some of my problems with the film and thanked him for his opinion. I then asked him if he thought the movie would have worked if someone other than Tom Hanks had played Sully. He answered: “Probably not.”
And that is why people are going to love this movie. It features America’s most appealing leading man playing an incredibly decent and likeable real life hero.
It’s just not a very good movie. But it made me want to read “Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters” by Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow. I hear that it’s a great book.
Five halos: Five halos. (There’s no disputing the humble, kind and courageous Chesley Sullenberger.
One pitchfork: Some swearing with a brief visit from our “once in every PG-13 movie f-bomb”.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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