'Sully' Review: Tom Hanks Has Never Been Better as Everyman Turned Hero

PHOTO: Tom Hanks in a scene from the film, "Sully."PlayKeith Bernstein/Warner Bros. Pictures/AP Photo
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Starring Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart and Laura Linney

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Rated PG-13

Four-and-a-half out of five stars

We all know the story of Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and US Airways Flight 1549.

It’s impossible to forget and you likely remember where you were when you heard about it. You might also remember vividly the images of the passengers huddled together on the wings of the A320 floating in the middle of New York’s icy Hudson River.

Following a catastrophic, double-engine bird strike, veteran pilot Sullenberger ditched the plane in the water, saving 155 souls and giving himself, and everybody else on the plane, a new beginning. In the process, he gave an entire city -- perhaps a whole country -- an inspiring and uplifting story at a time when we all needed some good news. Sully is an actual, real-life hero.

Admittedly, it’s a bit hard for me to be completely objective here. I’ve been driving down the Henry Hudson Parkway, alongside the Hudson River -- essentially the flight path of US Airways 1549 -- for the last 11 years. I work about a mile or so away from where Sully landed that plane. A few days before it happened, I even happened to fly on Sully’s airline, out of the same airport, to the destination where Sully was headed. A couple of years later, on another plane, I sat next to a terrific gentleman named Billy Campbell –- one of those 155 souls saved by Sully.

Those are just a few of the reasons this story is a bit personal, but I’m not alone. It’s particularly personal to New Yorkers, who vividly remember a passenger plane flying down the Hudson towards the World Trade Center 15 years ago. But for those who may not feel a personal connection to Flight 1549 at all, we have "Sully."

Perhaps you’ve seen the meme: Pictures of Tom Hanks in the movies "Apollo 13," "Castaway," "Captain Phillips" and "Sully," captioned, "One thing I will never do: Travel with Tom Hanks." As Hanks recently pointed out to ABC, he gets cast in these roles because he comes across as an average guy. That may be true, but those "average" men Hanks portrayed --- Phillips, Jim Lovell, Sully -- all did extraordinary things, most of which were well-covered in the press. But what wasn’t as well-covered, and what "Sully" the movie shows us, is the NTSB investigation and hearing regarding Sully’s actions that followed and the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) Sully clearly sustained from his heroics.

Short of it actually being a documentary, director Clint Eastwood, Hanks -- and Sully himself, as a consultant -- paint about as realistic a picture as possible of the story. Hanks has never been better and that’s including his two Oscar-winning performances. Equally up to the task in a supporting role is Aaron Eckhart as Sully’s unheralded co-pilot, Jeff Skiles. Their subtle, nuanced performances are precise and perfect. There is nothing boastful or big about them: like Sully and Skiles, Hanks and Eckhart are just doing their jobs, and doing those jobs better than anyone could’ve imagined.

The re-creation of Flight 1549 may be the scenes for which this film is remembered best. Eastwood trains his camera on the minutiae of the flight preparation: a tired passenger here, a man squeezing through an aisle there, a woman helping her elderly mother, parents fussing over their baby, flight attendants checking seat belts and giving safety instructions. It doesn’t just look like air travel -- it feels like air travel. And if you've ever flown, you'll reach for your seat belt because you’re going to feel like you, too, are on that plane. This may be the most well-executed, realistic depiction of modern-day air travel I’ve ever experienced in a movie.

Then there’s the actual flight, which I won’t describe, except to say that it is harrowing and palpable.

In short, this film is remarkable, with the exception of some questionable scoring, and several historically inaccurate depictions of the Hudson River in 2009. But I’ll give Clint Eastwood and company a pass on those points because this truly is a film for the ages.