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Movie review: Eastwood, Hanks soar with ‘Sully’

Warner Bros.

“Sully” (PG-13) 3 1/2 stars (out of 4)

Clint Eastwood masterfully tells the story of the “Miracle on the Hudson” and it’s surprising aftermath in “Sully,” a compelling drama  that chronicles the events surrounding Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s daring and unprecedented landing of an A320 airbus on the Hudson River in New York City on Jan. 15, 2009.

“Sully,” naturally, documents in detail the events of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 on that fateful day in 2009, when shortly after takeoff Sully (Tom Hanks) and First Officer Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) a bird strike renders both engines in their jet useless. With no engine thrust to commandeer the plane back to its point of origin at LaGuardia Airport or make an emergency landing at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, Sully makes the quick determination that landing on the Hudson River is the best if not only option.

People, of course, got to know Sully through his many appearances in the media following the miracle landing, which saved all 155 passengers and crew on board. Lost in whirlwind of press, however,  was the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into the incident that threatened to end the careers of Sully and his first officer on the flight.

Interview: Aaron Eckhart talks “Sully”

Though hailed as heroes by the general public, the NTSB’s reaction is quite different, as its  computer analyses and flight simulations suggested that Sully and Skiles could flown the plane back at La Guardia Airport or at the very least, could have landed at Teterboro. Even more damning, the NTSB claimed that at least part of the left engine on the plane was functional and would given the A320 with enough thrust to land at either airport.

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Hanks, whose career has been defined by good guy roles, is perfectly suited to play the hero in “Sully,” as he nails the quite demeanor and humility of the famed pilot who maintains a respect for the NTSB despite its intense scrutiny of the events surround the splash landing.


Listen to Tim’s review of “Sully” with Tom Barnard, Michele Tafoya and the KQ92 Morning Show crew at 13:30 in.

Eckhart is also terrific as Skiles, giving a face and voice to the pilot who, despite being relegated to the background as Sully captured most of the media’s attention, played a pivotal role in the landing of the plane on the Hudson. Laura Linney also gives a memorable performance in a supporting role as Sully’s wife and voice of reason as the pilot begins to question his actions in the face of adversity.

Eastwood, however, is the true star of “Sully.” He recreates the crippled Flight 1549 with gripping suspense (amazing, considering we all know the outcome), and his subtle direction defines the inspirational tone of the film, which ultimately gives it its emotional lift. Also chronicling the work of the first responders (many people from the real event recreated their roles for the film), “Sully” displays the work of everyday people at their finest. Be sure to stick around for the end credits of the film, as Eastwood includes emotional footage that punctuates the 90 minutes that precedes it.

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Interview: Aaron Eckhart says he’s honored to co-pilot ‘Sully’

Warner Bros.Even though he’s trained to fly himself, acclaimed actor Aaron Eckhart said he developed an even greater respect for pilots after co-navigating the true-life drama “Sully.”

The film, which opens in theaters and on IMAX theaters nationwide on Friday, chronicles Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s and First Officer Jeff Skiles’ “Miracle on the Hudson” water landing, as well as the jarring aftermath as the pilots’ decision-making during the crisis comes into question.

The thing Eckhart was most impressed with after meeting and consulting with Sullenberger and Skiles — whom he plays in the film — is that despite the miraculous landing, the men look on the 2009 events that ended in the Hudson River in New York City as a responsibility of the job and not an act of heroism.

“Sully and Jeff said, ‘Hey, that’s what we do for our job. We were trained and have 20,000 hours in the air. This is why we have checklists and procedures,” Eckhart said in a recent phone conversation from Los Angeles. “They just think of it as part of their job and don’t look at themselves as heroes. Sully knew because of his work that a plane at this weight is going to glide this far at this air speed and he was looking out for that.”

Having spent time in the cockpit over the years, Eckhart said the pilots’ mindset resonated with him while making the film.

“I pilot a little bit myself, and I know that I need to be looking for alternate routes, highways or waterways in case I have a problem in the air. It’s second n

ature to these guys,” Eckhart, 48, said. “All the pilots I’ve talked to after making this movie, they all think it’s part of the procedure of being a pilot. It’s their job and they all could have done it.”

Directed by legendary filmmaker Clint Eastwood, “Sully” naturally presents the intense moments in the cockpit and cabin of United Airlines Flight 1549 on Jan. 15, 2009, and the blistering scrutiny Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) and Skiles (Eckhart) faced in front of the National Transportation Safety Board during the investigation into what went wrong with the plane.

From the vantage point of Sullenberger and Skiles, a bird strike took out both engines of the A320 aircraft they were piloting upon takeoff and their only option was a forced water landing on the Hudson River.

But to the NTSB, computer analyses and flight simulations suggested that they could flown the plane back to the point of departure at La Guardia Airport in New York City, or at the very least, could have landed at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. Further complicating matters, the NTSB claimed during the investigation that at least part of the left engine on the plane was functional, which ultimately would provided the plane with enough thrust to land at either airport.

In addition to the title character, “Sully” shines a light on Skiles and several of the first responders that saved all 155 passengers and crew during the fateful, frigid day on the Hudson in 2009. The interesting thing is, most people associate the “Miracle on the Hudson” with Sullenberger, while the efforts of Skiles — who commandeered the takeoff of Flight 1549 — have largely been left in the background. As little known as Skiles is in comparison to Sullenberger, he is, after all, the person who knows the most about what happened on the flight, as the other pilot in the cockpit.

“Jeff and I talked about this, and he said he realized that there has to be a face to the story — that the media is going to pick out a hero and Sully was that guy,” Eckhart said. “Sully was the captain of the flight and Jeff came to terms with that and receded into the background. They were thrust into the spotlight so aggressively that one had to take that lead role. I don’t know what Jeff’s real feelings are about it, but he and Sully are still good friends today.”

No matter who took the lead, there’s no question, as audiences will discover, that Sullenberger and Skiles were both in the hot seat during the NTSB investigation and eventual hearing by the agency, which illustrated the viability of the alternate scenarios to landing in the Hudson.

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And while the treatment of the pilots will appear harsh to audience members — in stark contrast to the media adulation they received in the days and months after the landing — Eckhart said it’s the NTSB’s job to scrutinize, and the pilots, as well as he and Hanks, accept and respect the process as an absolute necessity.

“There was a lot on the line with what they did. You’re talking about a water landing, which in itself is an improbability, and then you’re talking about saving everybody’s lives,” Eckhart observed. “In the hearing, you find out that they could lose their commercial licenses, lose their pensions and lose their reputations. Everybody that has seen the film so far has been maddened by this NTSB hearing, but that’s what it’s there for. It’s the spine of the movie. It’s the drama. People think they know what they’re going to go see, but I think they are going to be pleasantly surprised that they’re going to see so much more.”

In the end, Eckhart added, “One hundred percent, Sully did not see the NTSB as adversarial. He said they’re doing their job. They’re a necessary part of keeping us safe.”

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