Tom Hanks won the 2016 Hollywood Film Award for Actor of the year for this film and most critics agree that it is a vintage Hanks performance, with white hair and moustache in imitation of the real hero, Chesley Sullenberger, who brought down an engineless plane in the Hudson River with no loss of life.
On the face of it, there is hardly a story here. Disaster movies hinge on death and destruction. The images in Sully of the plane flying low over the New York skyline can’t help but evoke memories of 9/11, when there was a dismaying feeling of utter powerlessness in the face of impending catastrophe. The ingenious screenplay by Todd Komarnicki isn’t just about the incident itself. It uses flashbacks and flashforwards. It’s at once a celebration of Sully’s deeds and a forensic examination of just how and why he behaved as he did. Like the classic Japanese movie Rashomon, it shows how many different versions people can tell of the same story.
From the point of view of The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), whose inquiry into the crash forms the major part of the drama, Sully might not be a hero at all. Their data analysis suggests he could have turned the plane back and reached the airport. In choosing to land on the Hudson, he wasn’t saving the passengers at all but was recklessly putting their lives at risk. Hanks convinces us of Sully’s quick thinking efficiency and bravery as a pilot but also shows us his character’s inner doubts. He is coming to the end of his career. There’s an obstinacy verging on arrogance about his confidence in his own abilities. As the NTSB asks more and more questions, he begins to wonder if, just maybe, he could have acted differently.
Sully is Hanks at the height of his powers. It’s one of a number of recent performances he has given (alongside those in Bridge Of Spies, which we showed last year, and A Hologram For The King) in which he has played middle-aged characters assailed by doubts and difficulties.
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Venue: William Loveless Hall