Year Released: 2016
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney
(PG-13, 96 min.)
Genre: Action and Adventure, Drama
“Everything is unprecedented until it happens for the first time.” Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger
Director Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks, two American treasures, are at the top of their game in this film about Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger's miraculous Hudson River Landing in 2009. And the retelling of the story is as unconventional as the landing itself.
Like the sly gunslinger he was in his younger days, 86 year old director Clint Eastwood still comes at his target unexpectedly. It is not the real one, but the nightmarish vision of Sully’s landing that he captures early in the film. The plane circling back to La Guardia, angling a narrow passage between skyscrapers…until it doesn’t. Our first vision of Captain Sully is not the cool pilot we remember from television newsreels, but a shaken and sweaty mess suddenly jerked awake in the night as he dreams of a deadly crash.
Just as he did so artfully in American Sniper, Eastwood captures the psychic damage that haunts so many lauded as heroes.
Captain Sully answers the questions of the FDA and later the NTSB (National Safety Review Board} with poise and equanimity. But they insist that computer simulations show he could have made it back to La Guardia or nearby Teterboro Air Port in New Jersey instead of attempting the dangerous water landing in the Hudson. And, according to their records, one of the engines was still viable after the flock of geese collided with the plane just 100 seconds into flight.
Out of the public eye and behind the scenes, Sully begins to doubt himself. He confesses to his wife, “I’ve safely delivered one million passengers over 40 years and tomorrow I’m going to be judged over 2008 seconds.”
Eastwood could not haven chosen a better actor to play the thoroughly decent pilot than Tom Hanks, who is our contemporary Jimmy Stewart. One of Hanks’s great gifts is his decision to underplay his parts, his low-key approach showing the underlying heroism in seemingly everyday Americans.
It is part of Tom Hanks’s brilliance and durability as an actor that he can play these ordinary men, yet bring out something extraordinary in them.
We saw that last year in Bridge of Spies, where Hanks portrayed the chief negotiator in the U2 spy plane incident, playing a hero as reluctant as he was unlikely.
And in 2013 when Hanks played Captain Phillips, essentially an ordinary man in an extraordinary circumstance. He did not not use any special prowess to retake his ship once it has been boarded by the small band of Somali pirates. He just tried to keep everyone under his command safe and alive.
Again, we noted Hanks's poignant portrayal of the Fed Ex deliveryman in Cast Away in 2000, where we not only accepted his talking to a soccer ball, but actually grieved with him when it floated beyond his grasp out to sea.
Hanks brings a decency and dignity to Sully, but there is also a core determination, one might even say a stubbornness that serves him well. It allows him to change course and ignore air traffic control when he decides to he must land in the water and to overlook the fearful side glance of his co-pilot when he makes that decision. He calmly corrects the NTSB’s “crash landing” descriptor to his own “controlled water landing” phraseology.
His battle with the Airbus A 320 lasts all of 2008 seconds; the battle with the bureaucrats of NTSB goes on for 15 months, though in the film the time frame is condensed. It is that second battle that is the more tortuous, and uncharted, as Eastwood so brilliantly shows us.
Not to miss.
In 2009 we all hailed Captain “Sully” a hero. He was the toast of the town, appearing on late night TV, and 60 Minutes, not to mention gracing the front page of a host of newspapers. What we didn’t know was the inner turmoil he was still feeling after his near crash landing on the Hudson, and the somewhat combative resistance we was getting from the National Safety Transportation Board (NTSB).
That and a bit of PTSD, which caused insomnia, and bad dreams. No wonder he haunted the dark streets of Manhattan, where he had to stay as the crash was investigated. Occasionally, he weathered some of his sleepless nights in bar. He preferred a simple drink, scotch and water I believe. But bartenders have concocted something special for our hero.
There was the joke last year that made the rounds — two shots of Grey Goose and a splash of water. But we here at City Room — fans of Sully and cocktails both — sought to create a definitive Sully drink to ring in the first anniversary of US Airways Flight 1549’s landing in the Hudson River. The only requirement was that the finished product do honor to its name.
We consulted Dale DeGroff, the so-called King of Cocktails. He thought it out and concocted a drink that has it all — heft, strength and clarity, served chilled — and leaves the imbiber with perhaps a warm little sliver of the euphoria of finding oneself standing, unharmed, on the wing of a jet.
We hustled the recipe straight to Keens Steakhouse on West 36th Street, where Tim McBride, 35, the spirits buyer, smiled with admiration at Mr. DeGroff’s choice of ingredients. “It’s a manhattan — with a splash,” he said.
Mr. DeGroff described the drink in an e-mail message: “A sweet manhattan with a float of Champagne on top … the manhattan for obvious reasons, but on the sweet side! And the float of Champagne to rejoice that the thing floated and didn’t sink!” –Dale DeGroff
The Sully Cocktail
“A cocktail celebrating the combination of skill, luck and physics.”
1 1/2 ounces rye whiskey (Keens used Sazerac)
1 1/2 ounces Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth
A dash of Angostura bitters, “because life is bittersweet … luckily in this case more sweet than bitter”
A float of the best Champagne you can afford
A Manhattan cherry
“Stir the rye, sweet vermouth and bitters with ice to chill, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Top carefully with the Champagne, ensuring that is floats on top of the cocktail. Drink the Champagne off the top of the drink first, and then slide a cherry into the bottom of the glass … down she goes.”