Movie Review – Sully


The drama encompassing the story of Captain Chesley, “Sully” Sullenberger, at first glance appears ideal for an adaption on screen. A pious hero at the center of a story so surreal, that it its tale has become truly iconographic. With his newest film, Clint Eastwood has thus taken on the challenge to impress his audience with a thriller that has a known ending. In the 2009, Sullenberger had been able to land his passenger jet on New York’s Hudson River after both of his engines had failed. The biographical facts of the film are quickly established, and they remain, as is important for a biographical screen adaption, accurate to a significant extent. Paradoxically, it is the movie’s accuracy that simultaneously becomes its crux. Despite a passionate, truly likeable Tom Hanks as the central protagonist, the storyline remains anticlimactic. There are no surprises awaiting the audience, and despite the attempt to establish a second, parallel story, the embittered conflict between Sullenberger and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which attempts to prove the captain’s alleged negligence, the film lacks a true antagonist. The plot remains superficial and fails to develop true depth.

    “Sully”, filmed entirely with Imax cameras, at first glance appears like a visual spectacle. Nevertheless, the film’s scenes remain irritating, marked by multiple loops, time lapses and the protagonist’s surreal dream sequences. Drenched in sweat, Sullenberger awakes in the middle of the night, had he dreamed that his plane had crashed into central New York. These sequences however, despite adding a degree of emotional depth, become irritating, interrupting the storyline and creating a confusing plot, marked with blurred moments between dream and reality. Eastwood however, understands the social discourse surrounding his protagonist’s heroic act. Tom Hanks portrays Sullenberger as a man of intuition, who chooses to beat all statistical odds in only 208 seconds. The scene of the dramatic landing of flight 1549 on Hudson River is rewinded multiple times, but each time, the audience is offered a new glimpse, a new perspective and a new story, gradually completing the film’s storyline. Perhaps “Sully” then becomes a resemblance for the conflict between intuition and reason, marked by grasping dialogues between the NTSB’s board and the protagonist, who seeks to defend his emotional decision-making, the reliance on his “gut-feeling”.

     But Sullenberger’s cinematic biography is designed also for a far greater purpose. Released on the 9th September 2016, only two days before the fifteen-year memorial of one of the greatest tragedies in American history, “Sully” can also be seen as an attempted Katharsis, a reconciliation with an atrocity of bygone times. Sullenberger portrays the tale of an American hero, a selfless man, who is able to prevent a second tragedy in the very heart of a city, and society, that had already experienced a deeply-rooted trauma. The ending of the movie bears the birth of this hero, the man who was victorious not only on the Hudson, but also in the world of bureaucracy, of inhuman individuals who intend to charge the individual who had saved 155 lives with criminal negligence. Particularly in today’s America, marked by social divisions and political radicalisation, Sully becomes an embodiment for the importance of solidarity and emotion. In the moment of a prevented catastrophe, divisions and tensions are all forgotten, what remains is the picture of a unified society, which, with all of its means, comes to aid the passengers and save lives. “Sully”, despite its weaknesses in plot development, is not only a cinematic biography of what has already passed, but becomes also a not so fictional depiction of what is true emotional reality.