It remains one of the indelible images of the 21st century.
On a frigid January morning in 2009, dozens of passengers found themselves perched on the wings of US Airways Flight 1549 — in the Hudson River.
Well. ON the Hudson River.
Just a few minutes after takeoff, the plane was struck by a flock of Canada geese, rendering both engines powerless and necessitating a return to LaGuardia Airport — but when it was determined there wasn’t enough time to reach LaGuardia or any other nearby runway, the plane made an emergency crash-landing on the water, and miraculously, all 155 passengers and crew survived.
At the helm of Flight 1549 was one Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who within 24 hours became one of the most famous American pilots this side of Charles Lindbergh.
It seems almost a foregone conclusion Clint Eastwood would direct and Tom Hanks would star in the movie version of the story. (Can you think of a better starting battery? I can’t.)
As accomplished as they are, it would be an understatement to say Eastwood and Hanks meet expectations. This isn’t just a solid piece of work; it’s resonant.
The 86-year-old Eastwood gives us an electrifying thriller, a wonderful in-depth character study and a fascinating airline safety procedural, while Hanks delivers another in a long line of memorable, nomination-worthy performances.
“Sully” begins with the immediate aftermath of the water landing, with Hanks’ Sully and his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart in one of his most measured and authentic performances), seemingly barely dried off after being soaked in the icy waters of the Hudson when they have to face down a skeptical group of inquisitors from the National Transportation Safety Board, including Mike O’Malley as Charles Porter and Anna Gunn from “Breaking Bad” as Dr. Elizabeth Davis.
From the get-go, it’s clear some on the panel believe Sully might have panicked and actually had enough engine power and enough altitude and time to get back to an airport. They ask Sully questions about how much sleep he had before the flight, when he had his last drink — and if he was experiencing any problems at home.
Mostly, though, “Sully” is about Sully. Hanks is so good he could play this character in a one-man show with nothing but a chair and a telephone onstage and it would be riveting.
Eventually, at just the right time, “Sully” takes us through those harrowing, incredible 208 seconds when Flight 1549 is struck by those birds, and the engines burst into flames before dying out, and Sully and Skiles react in the cockpit, and the flight attendants repeatedly command, “Heads down, stay down, heads down, stay down!” and a commercial aircraft rapidly sinks in the skies above New York City (of all places) and eventually splashes down on the Hudson.
The editing and the special effects and the performances are so pitch-perfect, this is as close as you’d ever want to come to being on that flight on that January day.
“Sully” is an absolute triumph.