For once, a plane disaster where all ends well, Sully : Miracle on the Hudson is an understated drama about what went on in the pilots cabin during one of the best saves in recent memory – and the way how the investigation about whether Sully and his crew did the right thing or not panned out afterwards.
The Disasters Faced
A plane crash, a water crash landing, BIRDS, angry corporate executives, a flawed investigation team and disgusting insurance companies whom won’t want to pay out anything.
Sully (Miracle on the Hudson – a subtitle added on for the UK) is a part disaster movie, part courtroom thriller that shows the real-life reenactment of a fateful water landing of a passenger jet on the Hudson River. Everyone survived. The plane, of course, did not and so that means big bucks for insurance companies to pay out so an investigation takes place. Whilst the outside world celebrate Sully as a hero, the insurance company want to pin him as the cause of the whole thing thus putting everyone’s lives unnecessarily in jeopardy. Sully himself is portrayed here as a private, quiet man and with all the media attention around him, he starts to wonder if he did the right thing after all. The pressure is great and puts a strain on his mental wellbeing and family life. Did he make the right decision? Does it ultimately matter if everyone is safe? Sully is as much a celebration of team efforts and everyday men and women as it is a disaster movie.
Why It’s Worth Watching
Sully, from the start, is understated and almost dreamlike in the way it switches from inside Sully’s mind, to past, present and future thoughts. He replays different outcomes in his mind and those outcomes are mostly firey and I’d imagine they evoke memories of 9/11 for an American audience. Skewing the timeline of Sully’s life – and the water landing itself – is what makes this short and compact film compelling because we see where he picked up previous skills to cope with all the situations thrown at him that fateful day. Clint Eastwood directed the film and his use of transitions between different times is inspired as a voice recording, a window or a monument set off memories for Sully and therefore us to revisit. We barely ever leave Sully for the duration of the film and that means we see everything through his patient, polite and respectful yet determined eyes. It reminds me to not mistake quietness for weakness.
Throughout the entire film, both Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart spend half their time acting using their eyes and face rather than the script itself and it’s this tone that elevates Sully to a more introverted disaster movie. When we see everything unfold fully, everything is told (and sold) with detail and precision with a nod to disaster movies of old, but its only a third of the film. Sully really has more in line with a courtroom drama as the investigation and its flawed methods try to damn the rescue for insurance and reputational gain for the final half hour. It’s subtle but tense – and that’s how I’d describe the overall mood and feel of the film as a tagline. It also shows just how flawed investigation panels are. How many investigations post-crash have been subject to the same problems this one had I wonder? There’s a fascinating line spoken: “This is the first time I’ve done one of these with the crew alive before me” – and I think the gravitas of that single line is directed straight at the industry and their priority order.
Whilst Sully is undoubtedly the centre of attention here, Jeff Skiles played by Aaron Eckhart is given plenty of appreciation and rightly so. He too shared that burden and carried out his part of the landing effectively and calmly too. His character is far more screen friendly and approachable and he gives levity to the movie. The film also goes out of its way to thank the crew, the ferry rescues, the divers and so on – it’s a celebration of a good day and it feels like we get too few of them. One of the reasons for that is the modern day press and in a film that sells itself as a miracle, even here the press are busy wondering aloud if its already too late to save everyone, even though they’re saved.
The plane crash into the Hudson is really well done, as are the dream sequences that Sully has of it going wrong. The overtones of 9/11 are strong and powerfully shown. What’s also really well done is the whole Hudson set itself. The plane is slowly sinking and the submerged sets and the plane wing pieces are excellently done – as are the cold breathes. There’s also plenty of artistic shots of the plane being seen by citizens of New York that I really appreciated.
Outside of the quiet Sully and the more pessimistic and flippant Jeff, most characters don’t get much screen time. The board members are generally your usual collection of business angry people determined to be professional but utterly cutting at the same time and I love how Texan the flight crew are. The film does give us some very short and minor passenger moments such as the old lady who can’t walk, a family separated in the evacuation and a mother and baby but they all have about three or four scenes each so you don’t feel too connected to them. One thing I will point out is that the male passenger who jumps into the water is actor Jeffrey Nordling. He portrayed Tom Burnett in Flight 93 so if there is a niche out there I think he may have found it.
“Everything is unprecidented until it happens for the first time” – Sully
Three memorable moments
- The first dream sequence
- Seeing all those passengers standing on the wings of the plane
- The full real-time re-enactment at the end
The obligatory weird moment…
While there’s no real weird moment, I found the phone calls between Sully and his wife slightly jarring. She seemed to be slightly disconnected from everything and worried about her own house and well-being rather than the bigger picture and whilst that does have its own payoff, it’s very minor. It gave the impression their marriage was on the rocks rather than the fact they are perfectly happy. Also, upon inspection of various forums, lots of people have been busy trying to find inaccuracies with the dashboards and flight sim testings. People have spotted unusual approaches to airports, missing inflatable slides and missing sirens and warning sounds. One of which is a siren saying “retard” which is French for “stop”. I can see this probably being removed because close minded people will probably get on their P.C. high horse and be automatically offended.
The drinking game
Sully stares into the distance a lot. He also runs a lot. Sometimes he combines both in which case you need to down your current glass. Good luck. You could even try the cocktail mentioned in the film!
Sully: Miracle on the Hudson is ultimately a heartwarming but tense movie about survival under pressure and the victory for a quiet man. It won’t be for everyone as it deals as much with the mind of the man himself as the crash, but its a fascinating watch if you want to get invested in it. I also found it better watching on its second and subsequent viewings.
Rating: 4/5 Excellent
If you liked Sully you may like…
- Flight (if you were more interested in the courtroom side than the plane crash side)
- Airport (for more plane drama)
- Flight 90: Disaster on the Potomac (Real life plane crash into a bridge – Made for TV)
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