Making movies based on well-known historical events can be a bit tricky — especially if it is about an event that nearly every person in the theater will remember.
But that is what director Clint Eastwood and the studio (Warner Brothers) behind the new film Sully (PG-13) chose to do — and despite the fact that the so-called “Miracle on the Hudson” took place only seven years ago, they did it successfully.
Sully is one of the best movies of the year, delivering surprise after surprise about an American hero — Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (played by Tom Hanks) – who landed U.S. Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River near New York after it was disabled due to a rare bird strike on both engines. Incredibly, all 155 people on board survived. Sully’s story was told and re-told in the days after the heroic events of Jan. 15, 2009, so what possibly could we all have missed? As it turns out, a lot.
Sullenberger had doubts that he did the right thing, wondering if he should have tried to land the plane at a close airport instead of endangering the passengers by putting the plane in the river. Those doubts led to nightmares about passenger planes crashing. He even wondered if the incident would threaten his career and retirement, leading to financial ruin for his family.
The movie turns officials with the National Transportation Safety Board into heartless bureaucrats, although some former employees say the NTSB gave Sullenberger high marks. Sullenberger, though, says the movie reflects his memory.
Historians can debate the film’s nuances, but from an entertainment and inspirational perspective, Eastwood and his writing team have weaved a masterpiece.
The movie has plenty to like for the faith-based crowd, but is it family-friendly? Let’s take a look.
Our society is always searching for heroes and role models, but we often miss the mark. And even though I’m not too fond of the hero concept, the on-screen version of Sullenberger has lots of qualities we all should emulate. He’s incredibly humble, spreading credit to those around him for the safe landing. He’s unselfish, making sure each person is off the plane before he climbs out — and then not resting until he’s told that every person survived. He’s also devoted to his wife, and their tight bond and devotion to one another forms one of the film’s major themes. As he’s getting into the lifeboat he immediately calls his wife: “I love you and I’m OK.” Later, when one of his fans tells him that her mother, Brenda, is single, he replies: “You tell Brenda ‘thank-you,’ but I’ve got a girl at home.”
Hanks is outstanding in his role, as is Aaron Eckhart, who plays his co-pilot.
The cockpit scenes are as realistic as I have ever seen in a movie.
There’s not much not to like. Sully contains no sexuality and no violence, and in the movie the water landing scene is completely bloodless. (In real life, there were a handful of serious injuries.) Nevertheless, many children would be troubled by watching an airplane fall out of the sky – not to mention by viewing Sullenberger’s nightmares of planes crashing into buildings.
The only strike against the film is the language. It contains about 17 coarse words, although no instances of God’s name being abused. (Details below.)
Lessons for Families
Sully is not a faith-based film in the strict sense, but Sullenberger’s actions certainly have biblical support.
His desire to sacrifice his life for others is evident with water rushing down the aisles, and instead of running away from the danger he hurries toward it, looking frantically for passengers. He helps them get out, even giving them clothing so they will be warm. He is the last person off the plane. It reminded me of John 15:13: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Families would do well to watch how Sullenberger handles himself in the face of both praise (strangers call him a hero) and criticism (the NTSB questions his actions). He stays humble and refuses to strike back verbally against his critics.
There’s also a lesson in the film on how one entire life can be defined by a single action – good or bad. “I’m going to be judged on 208 seconds,” he says. For him, it turned out well.
Finally, there’s a lesson about real-life miracles and God’s providence. How else can you explain this incredible story?
Entertainment rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 3 out of 5 stars.
Sully is rated PG-13 for some peril and brief strong language.
Language: Sh– (7), he—(4), da—(2), a—(1), ba—-d (1) SOB (1), OMG (1)
Violence: None. The plane lands in the river, although it is bloodless.
Michael Foust has covered the film industry for more than a decade and is the father of four small children. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelFoust, or on his website: MichaelFoust.com