MPAA Rating: PG
USCCB Rating: A-II
Reel Rating: (4 out of 5 reels)
story of the Miracle on the Hudson and its protagonist Capt. Chesley
"Sully" Sullenberger has already entered into pantheon of American
legends. During an interview shortly after the event, Katie Couric asked
the suddenly famous pilot, “Are you a hero?” For most Americans, the
obvious answer is “Yes”but for some, including the man himself, there
is doubt about the assertion.
The January 15, 2009 incident in
real time was not, in fact, terribly dramatic. It certainly was not
prolonged. Less than thirty minutes passed from when the plane took off
at LaGuardia Airport to when every passenger and crew was safely out of
the water. Despite the misgivings, it surely seems that Sully is indeed
an American hero, although of a type not often recognized.
goes without saying that director Clint Eastwood is a master
storyteller. At eight-six, he is still making a movie every two years
and the quality only seems to be getting better. Sully actually begins
after the emergency water landing, when the FAA and US Airways begin
their initial investigation and analysis. There were some questions
about Sully’s decision to ditch into the Hudson River rather than
attempting to return to an airport, questions undoubtedly asked with
insurance and lawsuits under consideration. Did Sully needlessly
endanger 155 lives and ruin a multi-million dollar airplane?
As the film
progresses, the details of that winter day are slowly revealed. Since
the outcome of the flight is already known, this is good way to keep
tension throughout the story while examining aspects that might
otherwise seem uninteresting. For his part, Sully, played by Tom Hanks,
is convinced he made the right choice, even if computer simulations
might indicate otherwise. The airline representatives are certainly
antagonists, but they aren’t monsters and they are willing, with the
“help” of the pilot’s union, to give Sully a fair hearing. It just seems
too good to be true, but maybe that’s because what happened had never
Watching Sully, two other fantastic films came
to mind that are similar visually and thematically: United 93 and
Captain Phillips (both directed by Paul Greengrass). Those films
involved hijacked vessels and ordinary citizens being thrust into
extraordinary circumstances. In these cases, the people involved were
heroes in the traditional sense, choosing to act when they did not
have to and saving lives in the process. Like St. Joan of Arc or St.
George, they faced the dragon of moral evil and conquered.
is not that kind of hero. Facing the natural evil of multiple bird
strikes, he stayed calm and followed protocol. He drew upon thousands of
hours of flight experience to make a calculated decision and to see it
through. He performed an ordinary task with great care, saving as many
lives as possibleincluding those on the ground. In this way, he is a
hero more in the vein of St. Thérèse of Lisieux or St. Therese of
Calcutta, who advocated the “little way” to holiness. He did what he was
trained for, and, this time, it worked out perfectly. Not all of us
will be like the passengers of Flight 93, but all us can be like Sully,
dutifully giving every aspect of our lives over to God and trusting in
his providence. In this way, even if the birds never came, the plane
landed safely in Charlotte, and no one ever heard of Sully, he would
still be a heroa man performing his duties with care, diligence, and
without concern for fame or recognition.
In the final moments of
the film, Sully is vindicated and it becomes clear the right choice was
made. Yet, even then, Sully refuses to accept the mantle of hero.
Rather, he praises everyone else. He praises his co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles
(Aaron Eckhart), who guided him through ditching directives. He praises
the airline stewards, who calmed the passengers and got everyone out.
He praises the responders without whom some would have frozen to death
in the near freezing water. “It took all of us,” he says, “working
together to make it.”
With that line, Eastwood has created the
perfect movie to commemorate the recent anniversary of September 11,
marking a harrowing and horrific event during which Americans of all
stripes came together to help one another with selfless sacrifice. In an
election season that has, at times, brought to light what is most
broken and troubling in America, it’s helpful to be reminded of what is
best. The common man is alive and well, doing ordinary things
extraordinarily, usually unnoticed but once in a while getting the
praise (and the movie) he deserves.