Entertaining, but does not improve on the dramatic reality

This is my review of Sully: Miracle On The Hudson [DVD + Digital Download] [2017].

This film may be most dramatic for those who have not heard of the US passenger plane which in January 2009 was forced to make an emergency landing in the near freezing waters of the Hudson River, too close for comfort to the densely built up centre of New York. Both engines shut down on impact with a flock of Canada geese, but the skilled pilot Sullenberger (“Sully”) judged correctly that there was insufficient time to reach a nearby runway.

Clint Eastwood, who has proved a skilled director, saw the potential of the celebrated pilot’s memoirs to produce the kind of drama which will make the most nonchalant air passenger a little apprehensive on his or her next flight. Since the survival of all 155 passengers is still widely remembered, the interest lies in developing the technical and psychological aspects of the story. So we see the outwardly cool and collected Sully suffering stress-induced nightmares and visions of the plane crashing 9-11-style into a Manhattan skyscraper. Even if not prepared to admit to any doubts, he is inevitably forced to question the soundness of his actions by the initial report that one of the engines was in fact working. Has he put lives at risk needlessly?

Yet, although there is compelling drama in the scenes of terrified passengers bracing themselves as the plane hurtles towards the water, or forced out to totter on the wings, awaiting rescue, the film, despite being relatively short at 90 plus minutes, often seems essentially quite thin in content. The heavy reliance on flashbacks is fine, but the repetition of some scenes, however dramatic, Sully’s frequent banal telephone conversations with his anxious wife and shots of his younger self learning to fly or succeeding in a difficult landing often seem like efforts to pad the film out.

The tension between the media adulation of Sully’s achievement and the speed with which a censorious National Transportation Safety Board latches on to the charge of pilot error may have been exaggerated to make the story more gripping. However, when I read the details of the real events online, I was surprised that more drama was not made of the recorded details of the rescue. It bothered me that passengers were shown leaving the plane without life-jackets, unless lucky enough to catch one thrown by the cabin crew, a woman even falling into the water with a jacket hooked precariously over one arm. If the evacuation was performed as shown, it would seem that the cabin crew for whom the pilot was responsible were at fault. This is an interesting twist, but unfair if untrue.

Although the graphics used to show the emergency landing are impressive and the technical details to do with use of flight simulators to recreate the forced landing are interesting, dialogues are sometimes hard to hear, and overall the film lacks the spark it could have had. I would as soon have seen a good documentary on the incident.

⭐⭐⭐ 3 Stars

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