Hanks Delivers Another Performance for the Ages
Whenever Clint Eastwood decides to helm a new directorial venture, there is always something new to look forward to. Eastwood has directed movies in a long standing career that have covered various genres ranging from Crime (Mystic River), War(Flags Of Our Fathers, Letters From Iwo Jima), Western (Unforgiven), Romance (The Bridges of Madison County), Biopic (J. Edgar, American Sniper), Drama (Gran Torino, Million Dollar Baby), Sports (Invictus), Period Drama (Changeling). At the ripe old age of 86, he is back in business with yet another story that deserved to be told, inspired from a real life incident coined as "The Miracle on the Hudson". Sully is about Flight Pilot Captain Chesler "Sully" Sullenberger, and his miraculous "forced" water landing of the US Airways Flight 1549, bound for Charlotte from the La Guardia Airport in New York City, on the Hudson River, that led to the survival of all 155 people on board, crew members included. That Tom Hanks, one of the most decorated actor of our generation, plays Sully, is just the icing on the cake.
Sully and his First Officer, Jeffrey Skiles (played with immaculate charm and razor-sharp wit by Aaron Eckhart) are destined to be the Pilot and the Co-Pilot respectively, of the ill-fated US Airways Flight that took the world by storm on January 15th, 2009. As the plane embarks on its journey to Charlotte, it gets involved in a mid-air collission with a flock of Canada Geese, only to render its two engines dysfunctional as a result of damage conceded in the high-altitude impact. Sully, using his 40 years of in-flight experience, decides to do the unthinkable - land the plane into the frigid waters of the Hudson River. Just as the passengers travelling in the flight and the citizens of New York City hail Sully as a National Hero, the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) begins its detailed investigation into the incident, as it does for any civil aviation incident under its jurisdiction. The NTSB officials are of the opinion that Sully acted more out of his own whim and fancy, and had he adhered to standard procedure, he could have landed safely at La Guardia Airport without risking the life of every passenger and crew member onboard the flight. Did Sully have a viable and feasible option of landing back safely at the La Guardia Airport? Or if not, could he have landed the plane safely at the Teterboro Airport in New Jersey or at the Newark International Airport? Did the airplane have the necessary thrust to sustain altitude and have a safe landing at one of these airports despite the twin engine failure? The movie attempts to seek answers to these questions as part of the ongoing investigation even as we find Sully and Skiles burdened with the task of proving that the course of action initiated by them was the best chance that the 155 souls had of cheating imminent death.
Tom Hanks adds another feather to his decorated crown of acting masterpieces with his dignified and upright portrayal of Captain Sullenberger. Hanks who has been on a spree of enacting real-life honourable American citizens like Captain Richard Phillips (Captain Phillips), Walt Disney (Saving Mr. Banks) and James Donovan (Bridge of Spies), continues the trend with Sully. He portrays Sully's die-hard commitment towards his job, indomitable pride in his humungous flight experience, concern for the safety of his passengers, and utter disdain for taking credit and being called a hero for his miraculous rescue. Aaron Eckhart, as co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles, is a delight to savour in this otherwise serious drama, with his witty and sarcastic quips at the NTSB. Skiles is at loss to understand why NTSB has even bothered to investigate the incident, when they should have just honoured Sully for his "Out of the Box" thinking and Eckhart portrays this wonderfully making us root for his character as he defiantly stands with Sully as a mark of his loyalty and admiration towards him. Laura Linney as Mrs. Sullenberger is wasted in a role where she is relegated to the background trying to reach out to her husband in times of peril and trauma, and trying to assure him her full support, even as she worries about their bleak future. Among the actors portraying the NTSB officials, only Mike O'Malley stands out as the sullen in-charge of the investigation out to prove his point, while the rest of the officials are relegated to the background.
Eastwood and writer Todd Komarnicki keeps the proceedings grounded and low-profile just as Sully would have wanted, attracting just the right amount of audience interest. Sully gets mobbed by media persons, sweats and awkwardly smiles as he participates in television interviews and shows, gets hugged and kissed by totally stranger women, and even ends up in a bar that has a cocktail named after him. Admitting that he is overwhelmed by all the attention that he is getting, we find Sully fighting an inner battle of self-doubt with his conscience about whether he took the right decision, retrospecting and struggling to re-affirm his belief and faith in his abilities. While Sully and Skiles' post traumatic stress is efficiently portrayed, Eastwood and Komarnicki also stress the supremacy of human experience and decision-making prowess in adverse unexpected circumstances over the calculative, predictive and precise nature of highly advanced computer simulations devoid of the human touch. Its the "Man vs Machine" argument that gets another rejuvenating push in favour of Man. The special effects as we see the plane landing on the Hudson or soaring through the jungle of skyscrapers, are spellbinding. Sully does not even come close to Eastwood's best, with its plot lacking the high octane drama and thrills and due to its well known plot that is already wafer-thin (Sully only had 208 seconds to land the plane and rescue effort hardly took 24 minutes), but Hanks and Eckhart, coupled with Eastwood's masterful direction, manage to impress the viewers with a low-key predictable drama, made with its heart in the right place and without overt manipulation, steering the audience to a quiet celebration of the victory of the never-say-die human spirit and the heroism of ordinary citizens, who surmount unexpected challenges on a daily basis in the line of duty. And it is these new experiences, good or bad, that equip the artificial intelligence systems to gain new insights in order to predict more accurately in the future, and not vice-versa.