A mother and daughter bicker over whether it’s necessary to buy a cheap gift from an airport store. A father, son and their buddy rush through a terminal to so they don’t miss their flight to a golfing weekend. Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) asks for a sandwich recommendation from a store clerk. These are scenes from the morning of 15 January 2009; the day US Airways flight 1549 struck birds on takeoff and was forced to land in the Hudson River. These rotating perspectives are dramatised throughout Sully, some only lasting seconds, to stamp ‘I was here’ on civilian lives that would be nothing more than collateral damage in any other movie. But these folks lived thanks to their pilot and the variety of witnesses and emergency responders who diffused the incident in less than 30 minutes, each person playing a vital role. In New York City it takes a village to rescue a downed aircraft.
Director Clint Eastwood uses these perspectives to elevate the film above being a story just about heroics; he makes each life matter, no matter how frivolous their introduction. The plane is more than a manifest of names; it reminds you why pilots often refer to their passengers as souls. It’s precious cargo: mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, aunts and uncles. All of them could easily be taken for granted, like the way we’d rather flip through a magazine than pay attention to flight attendants giving a safety demonstration we’ve seen multiple times before. Eastwood weaves bite-sized chunks of the lives of everyone affected by the events of 15 January to re-frame the real event.
With each new perspective of the day, despite knowing the outcome, the Hudson River landing sequence becomes harrowing because the people matter. And the immense pressure of the moment rests on the shoulders of Sully and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) to guide these souls to safety. In the modern era of anti-heroes and superheroes who’d rather punch each other than save people, it’s hearting for Sully to culminate in an act of basic human decency and courage.
Beyond the culmination of Eastwood’s mastering of perspective to tell this story, revitalisation occurs in the aftermath of the event. The Hudson River landing is the good news New York City—and the world—needs in the aftermath of 9/11; something the film never shies away from acknowledging. In nightmare sequences, we see Sully’s envision of the worst-case scenario that constantly plays over in his mind to remind us of how close he got to tragedy. The passengers are plunged into the water during the landing and are reborn with another shot at a new day, as is the Big Apple. From the perspective of the strangers who hug Sully and name drinks after him in bars around New York, there’s change in the air and there’s time to heal.
Cam Williams - Follow Cam on Twitter here: @MrCamW