September 10, 2016 -- This movie tells the story of real life hero Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, an airline pilot who suddenly found himself thrust into the national spotlight after his January 15, 2009 forced water landing in New York City's Hudson River.
From all accounts this movie is faithful to the facts, except for its exaggeration of the ultra-adversarial role played by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in the investigation of this spectacular water ditching and rescue incident. Some people who appear in this movie, such as a rescue diver and a boat captain, are the actual people who were there that day.
While the movie is largely told from Sully's (played by Tom Hanks) point of view, the actual water landing incident, and the ensuing investigation, are told in story fragments, some of which are not in chronological order.
In the old days, these kinds of movies, like the “Airport” movies and Irwin Allen disaster movies were all told in chronological order. First, you introduce the characters, then you put them in peril and see what happens. This uses the same formula, but the story elements are split into short segments, inserted into the narrative here and there, sometimes jumping backwards in time. This is a more contemporary style of storytelling, but sometimes, the trendy method is not the best way of telling a story like this.
Most of the story takes place in a short time frame in January, 2009, but there are flashbacks to events decades before in a couple of scenes. There are also some dream sequences, including Sully's own nightmares and visions of disasters. He often seems tortured by these thoughts in the movie.
When the movie gets around to actually depicting the incident itself, fragmented though it is, it is a visual tour de force, from the bird strikes which stopped both engines of the Airbus A320-214, to convincing images of the aircraft, trailing smoke, gliding through the sky, not far enough above New York City.
The water rescue of all 155 passengers and crew is also compellingly depicted. The striking thing is that everyone just does their job. There is not a lot of personality or emotion on display, except for the panic of the passengers. Most of the best dramatic scenes are reserved for three people, Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart (“London Has Fallen”) who plays co-pilot Jeff Skiles and Laura Linney (“Love Actually”) who plays Sully's wife, Lorraine. Eckhart provides some nice comic touches in his performance.
The NTSB investigation into the water landing is depicted in the film as an “us against them” situation, where the NTSB seems bent on proving pilot error. Computer simulations indicate the aircraft could have landed safely after the engines failed. As I mentioned earlier, this depiction of the investigation is probably exaggerated merely to increase suspense and drama. It certainly doesn't ring true that the NTSB investigation would overlook something as obvious as what it overlooks in the movie.
This film is as much a depiction of the emotional pressures faced by Sully in the aftermath of the landing and rescue, as it is about the landing and rescue itself. It is a compelling, well-acted and directed (by Clint Eastwood) drama, although I would have liked it better if the story had been told in a more straightforward way. This film rates a B.
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