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Film Review: Sully: Miracle on the Hudson

Friday 02 December 2016
Words Spindle

Sully: Miracle on the Hudson tells the real story of Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, the captain who successfully landed a commercial airplane on the Hudson river in 2009, saving the lives of all 155 people on board. After a flock of geese hit the plane and destroyed the engines, Sully realised they were unable to return to the airport and had little choice but to land the jet on the river. But this isn’t a simple retelling of events, which, despite the potential thrills and tension, would have only been a formulaic, dull film. Director Clint Eastwood, with all his years of experience, instead chooses to open the film after the crash landing, and focus on the investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) into the flight that took place after the incident.

The decision to give this story a non-linear narrative creates a film that is utterly compelling and perfectly structured around Sully’s (Tom Hanks) life after the incident; scenes of the event occur only as he is made to repeatedly go over them by the NTSB; as he examines what happened himself in moments of self-doubt; and in his terrifying flashbacks, suffering from post-traumatic stress. The investigation into the flight is infuriating, as Sully and co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) are made to remain in New York and be continually badgered over every detail, with the NTSB insisting they should have tried to return to the airport. The pilots have just saved hundreds of peoples lives, they’re both suffering in the aftermath of the traumatic event, and it seems cruel to put them through such examination. However, these scenes do feel a little over the top at times, with shocking lack of empathy from most of the NTSB members.


The full psychological impact of the event on Sully isn’t explored in as much detail as would have been really interesting, but Hanks makes the most of what he’s given to convey Sully’s damaged state of mind and conflicting feelings over the investigation. However, something that really lets the film down at moments is its soundtrack, which occasionally encroaches too much on the film, feeling over done and melodramatic, making what should be subtle, emotional moments of Sully struggling with his experience into over the top, overly sentimental scenes. We can see and understand how he is feeling; we don’t need a sweeping soundtrack to step each time to confirm it. Sometimes silence is much more powerful.

Despite the film revisiting the incident multiple times, not one is tiresome, covering the perspectives of numerous people involved, from Sully, Skiles and the cabin crew to the passengers on board, from air traffic control and the emergency services to random witnesses. These scenes are highly affecting, with real empathy created for those involved, although this does at times become a bit overly sentimental, especially where the passengers on board are concerned, with some moments feeling rather emotionally manipulative. However, Eastwood does a great job of showing the impact of the incident on so many people, and we really feel for them. But any sentimentality certainly doesn’t spoil the gripping tension of these scenes, which are pure nail biting, on-the-edge-of-you-seat cinematic thrills. “Brace for impact,” is all Sully says before the plane hurtles towards the river. We almost can’t believe it when we see, along with everyone on board, that they are successfully floating in the water. Despite knowing everyone will survive, the film is not spoiled by us already knowing the real story, and maintains a taut sense of fear throughout these scenes.


Sully’s post-traumatic stress-induced visions and dreams include horrifying images of planes crashing into skyscrapers. You certainly won’t want to watch this near your next holiday abroad, and it goes without saying this is one to avoid watching on planes at all costs. This is ultimately a heart-warming story of emergency services expertly coming together in quick response, of lives being saved against the odds, and of pilots drawing on all their years of experience, training, and instincts, maintaining that they did the best thing. With its interesting true story, ‘Sully: Miracle on the Hudson’ is full of visual spectacle, suspense and is highly gripping throughout. Despite some elements feeling a little overdone, as a whole this isn’t an overly congratulatory, overblown film of heroism, for, as Sully said himself, “We were just doing our jobs.”

Watch the trailer for ‘Sully: Miracle on the Hudson’ below:

‘Sully: Miracle on the Hudson’ is released in cinemas across the UK today, Friday 2nd December.