No, not “Monsters Inc 3”.


Chesley Sullenberger was just a very experienced US Airways pilot starting an everyday job flying from LaGuardia airport in New York to Charlotte when fate stepped in. Following an extensive bird strike and the loss of both engines, ‘Sully’ achieved worldwide fame by landing his aircraft and all 151 passengers and crew safely on the Hudson river. Sully is immediately acclaimed by the public as a hero; US Airways, and their insurers, however, are not necessarily as impressed given that their plane has got rather soggy when the flight data suggests it might have actually been able to make it to a landing at a number of nearby airports. So a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) inquiry is called, where a decision against Sully could see him facing the fastest fall from grace since Icarus.

Not the best airline movie to watch.

This film is obviously based on this real-life ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ and to a large extent the recreation of the crash…. sorry… “forced water landing” is both vivid and gripping. The film is certainly unlikely to make the regular list of in-flight movies for nervous passengers, but it does serve as a good training film for all of those regular airline passengers who don’t “put down their reading materials” to listen to the aircraft safety announcement. 

Director Clint Eastwood has delivered a highly watchable action sequence showcasing the undisputed acting talents of Tom Hanks (playing Sully) and his Aaron Eckhard (“Olympus Has Fallen”, playing the co-pilot Jeff Skiles).  This makes for a great 45 minute film. The problem is the other 51 minutes.  

Hanks giving an extraordinarily tense facial performance as the water gets closer and closer.

Where the film works well – aside from the actual recreation itself – is in representing the post-traumatic stress experienced by Sully, with his insomnia and regular flashbacks of ‘what might have happened’ (anyone still strongly affected by 9/11 will struggle with these scenes). The final NTSB hearing scenes are also well-done and suitably gripping: particularly for viewers outside of the UK where we wouldn’t have heard the outcome of the affair once the news cycle had moved on from the ‘gee-whizz’ headline event.  

Where the film aquaplanes somewhat is in the padding achieved through multiple (MULTIPLE!) scenes of New Yorkers back-slapping Sully. Some of this is needed to establish the pedestal that Sully is set upon: the bar scene, for example, is well done. But all the rest of the references become just plain tiresome.  

There is also a back-story focused on Sully’s financial problems and rather scratchy marriage (as portrayed) to Lorraine (Laura Linney).  Linney is normally a highly-watchable actress, but here her character is just so irritating that the mood of the film plummets every time she reappears on screen.

Linney: unfortunately, just plain (or plane) irritating.

The key problem that screenwriter Todd Komarnicki (“Elf”!!) had here is the obvious one: that as a real-event (based on Sullenberger’s own book “Highest Duty”) he would have had more scope to build tension if the flight had lasted more than 208 seconds!  We end up with little visibility into the back-stories of the passengers. We get to see a father and two grown-up sons who – as fate would have it – just manage to catch the doomed plane:  and we end up caring what happens to them. But this approach could have perhaps been usefully extended to feature more of the passenger back-stories (without getting the full “Airport” soap treatment).

The NTSB have been a little bit upset about their depiction in the film…. with good reason.

Clint Eastwood is also clearly an All-American patriot, and in common with some of his other films he can’t help himself from putting up rather soupy statements about the self-sacrifice of New Yorkers (“the best of New York came together”):  when actually the rescue teams did what they were paid to do and Ferry captains did what you or I would do if we stumbled on the scene! These sentiments might go down well in the States: in the cynical UK they tend to generate snorts of irritation.

What IS nice are a couple of “monkeys” (see Glossary) during the closing credits where the real Sully, Skiles, cabin-crew and passengers appear together in a celebration of continued life against all the odds. And just so you are aware, this is done as two separate segments during the titles, so if you don’t want to be one of those people standing in the aisles with your coat half on, then wait for the second one!

Movie hero and real hero. Hanks and the real Sullenberger.

A curate’s egg of a film: great in places, but overall not as well executed as it could have been. 

Fad Rating:  FFFf.