What It's About: The inside story of the Miracle on the Hudson is not just a thrilling tribute to a genuine American hero, "Sully" is a fine example of real people who are dedicated to doing the best they can, even under the most harrowing of circumstances.
By all accounts, Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger is a humble, honorable guy who deflected praise and gave credit to his co-pilot, airplane staff, passengers, air traffic controllers, and New York's emergency responders.
But without his grace under pressure and his veteran skills, there may have been a very different outcome on Jan. 15, 2009, when a routine flight from LaGuardia to Charlotte, N.C., turned into anything but, after a flock of geese struck the plane and disabled both engines.
Sully and co-pilot Jeff Skiles calmly landed the plane on the Hudson River, and miraculously, all 155 passengers were saved.
While a valiant feat, those 208 seconds wouldn't necessarily make a compelling feature on its own, so where is the conflict?
Well, it turns out that the National Transportation Safety Board wasn't so dazzled by the heroics, and believed they had evidence to support their position that Sully could have returned to LaGuardia or landed at nearby Teterboro. Sully and Skiles had to defend their actions. Their careers and reputations were at risk.
The movie, based on the book "Highest Duty" by Sully and Jeffrey Zaslow, details those investigations in tense-filled meetings. Todd Komarnicki's script weaves the data and simulations in without bogging down the drama in minutiae.
With his lean, cut-to-the-chase style, director Clint Eastwood ("American Sniper") gives due to the ordinary heroes involved, the people who stepped it up and lived to tell this remarkable tale.
But it is the sharp, astute performances that allow the film to resonate emotionally, while the exciting visual effects make it soar.
Performances: Tom Hanks wears decency well. Through the years, he has become as reliable as James Stewart and Gary Cooper were during film's first golden age.
In "Sully," Hanks never raises his voice nor does he have a big scenery-chewing meltdown. He deftly captured the essence of the career pilot whose code of honor and sense of duty are admirable traits. His choice of subtlety speaks volumes about the title character. And he's the foundation of this absorbing drama.
Laura Linney convincingly portrays Lorraine "Lori" Sullenberger, the supportive wife, which means she's on the other end of phone calls quite a bit. Aaron Eckhart ("The Dark Knight") conveys the co-pilot Skiles' work ethic and respect for Sully.
What Works: The story remains fascinating, even though we know how it turns out. Like "Argo" and "Apollo 13," the suspense builds so we are on the edge of our seats.
The story arc puts everyone through an emotional rollercoaster that's as gripping as any disaster film.
The visual effects are done exceptionally well, and look authentic.
Stay for the credits — that's when you see the real people.
What Doesn’'t Work: A full-length feature may feel padded, but the story remains powerful and is suited for the big screen.
It's the kind of film you want to cheer at the end.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Anna Gunn and Mike O'Malley.
Rated: PG-13 for some peril and brief strong language