Legendary actor-director Clint Eastwood returns to the big screen with Sully, a biopic about Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks; A Hologram for the King, A Bridge of Spies), the pilot who landed an A320 passenger plane in the Hudson River to save all 155 passengers on board in 2009. With both engines failing and the lives of American families hanging in the balance, “Sully” had just 208 seconds to react to the situation. However, this film is not just plainly about those pivotal moments of near-disaster, now touted the Miracle on the Hudson, but rather is about the captain of the plane, who had just survived a near-death experience, only to realise he has become an overnight celebrity and national hero.
Designed like a PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) film, Sully illustrates the internal turmoil as Captain “Sully” struggles between the traumatic “what-ifs” as investigations questions his life-risking decision, and the attention of an overnight celebrity. With his career on the line, “Sully” and his First Officer, Jeffrey Skiles (Aaron Eckhart; The Dark Knight, London Has Fallen) must relive the traumatic moment again to prove that what they did was not just a miracle, but their thousands of flight experiences never trained them for. Flashing back constantly to relive that mid-air experience, Eastwood brings the effects of trauma in full force to the audience. As “Sully” revisits the event again and again, with different disastrous outcomes, audiences are forced to feel that tension and doubt as what he went through on that fateful flight.
While the film title suggests a focus on the titular character himself, the film slowly detracts away to show the other passengers’ moments before the flight. While brief in appearance, these scenes takes away the focal emphasis of a biopic to resemble Eastwood’s trademark American patriotism. A grandmother and her daughter anxious to return to see their newborn addition to the family, a father and his two sons going on a family trip, a new mother and her newborn on board, Eastwood brings back classic family and patriotic imagery to a New York aviation mishap, undoubtedly in traumatic relation to the September 11 attacks. As “Sully’s” friend mentioned, it has been a while since there were any good news in New York, involving an airplane.
Overall, the film is a great drama of wonderful exploration of trauma, albeit from a disaster avoided, and patriotism. While Sully aims to invoke patriotism in American hearts, it does bring warmth and hope to international audiences.