Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Sully (2016)

Only death exempts the mind from wandering into the what-if especially having been so close to death.

Even after successful water landing on the Hudson River Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s (Tom Hanks) sees himself still crashing into buildings, which could have happened had he strayed off the river.

The story of that fateful flight is very straight forward. Capt Chesley Sullenberger, his co-pilot and First Officer Jeff Skiles, and three stewardesses were manning the US Airways Flight 1549 in a routine flight between New York to Charlotte, North Carolina. The flight had 150 passengers on board.

Barely minutes after take-off, Flight 1549 endured bird strikes that took out both engines. Capt. Sully, basically left with an oversized metal glider, had the choice of either Laguardia or Teterburo to make an emergency landing. After going through a series of parameters, quickly and mentally, he glided the airplane into the river.  The plane suffered a breach but was relatively intact albeit sinking. Only the quick response of New York’s emergency services and nearby boat ferries managed to end this incident at zero casualties.

Under creative liberties the filmmakers avoided the simple straight forward. The story of Sully starts days and months after the incident. Everything is framed with the investigation of Capt. Sully and his First Officer Jeff Skiles by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The NTSB is an American agency that determines the probable cause of the accidents and issues safety recommendations aimed at preventing future accidents. A plane dived into the Hudson; an investigation is just standard procedure.

So the start of the film wherein Capt. Sully is seeing himself crash into a building is not just a result of shocked nerves after having faced death so close; he really has to replay the incident over and over again because he’s under investigation.  The investigation also has an added benefit to the narrative as it provided a pretext to see different points of view which should culminate in a full factual picture of the incident.

Besides Capt. Sully there is his crew, the passengers of US Airways Flight 1549, the ferry boats of the Hudson River, and the City New York. Sully is a story about community as much as it is about the man. Despite being a plane crash it was a feel good moment for New York especially with its bad history with airplanes.

Unfortunately under creative liberties the movie might have made a casualty of the reputations of the NTSB panel making the investigations. Based on a Bloomberg article, the NTSB has said they were not consulted in the making of the film. Filmmakers on the other hand replied that the story was in Capt. Sully’s point of view.

Story wise, without knowing what went on in those hearings; I thought it outrageous that the investigations can boil down to simulations vs. an experienced pilot. I didn’t think it possible because I doubt NTSB would dare politically with the incident practically deified as the Miracle of the Hudson. Besides even if they dared can it really be possible to favour simulations over an experienced pilot?  Or is it a case to case basis?

I also thought than in a post September 11 world there is fear against a piloted projectile such as an airplane. Those fears are what I was thinking of every time the story cuts into Sully’s nightmares. September 11 comes to mind also in cuts of the citizens watching the Flight 1549 going down; like you can almost hear them say, ‘not again’.  And yet with all this history the investigation hinges only on the Flight 1549’s ability to make the airport or not?

Acting wise, what negative can I say about Tom Hanks? He exudes hero even without the physicality of someone like Tom Cruise who is more an action hero.  Tom has a face you’d just believe whether it be stranded on an island or piloting a plane to the river. Tom has a brilliant support cast led by his first officer played Aaron Eckhart and his wife played Laura Linney.

Creative liberties run amuck or an expression of the pilot’s point of view? As always back reading is advised before swallowing hook line and sinker any information coming out from true-to-life flicks. Bottom line is whatever comes out of Hollywood are just movies.

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