Sully exemplifies how based-on-true-incident stories should be told. Restrained, dignified, and with a firm eye on the human aspect.
On Jan 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 suffered a devastating bird strike that took out both of its engines. In the face of a catastrophic crash, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger made a frightening decision. Rather than attempt to reach the nearest airport, he decided to ditch the aircraft into the freezing waters of the Hudson River. His decision ultimately saved the lives of everyone on board.
Many things could go wrong with a movie like Sully. Foremost of which being the inclination or the compulsion to exaggerate.
It’s like, how do you paint a stirring portrait of a legendary hero without over-relying on embellishments and hyperboles? How do you earn the awe of a paying audience without deviating too much from truth and reality?
Sully doesn’t completely get all of these balances right, and by that I mean its contentious portrayal of the NTSB as an antagonistic, fault-insistent committee for storytelling purposes. That said, Sully still shines brighter than most other movies in this genre because of its decision to tell the rest of the story as it was.
Audiences hungry for action are going to be sorely disappointed here. Tom Hanks’ Chesley Sullenberger borders on being stony and there is absolutely no Hollywood-style heroics in the movie. Even the climatic Hudson River rescue scene is accompanied by melancholic piano music rather than strident symphonic marches. During some segments, you could even describe the ambience as serene.
And yet, these directorial choices are exactly what infused the movie with a stirring humanism. One that compels you to empathise with the misfortune of the passengers as well as celebrate their rescue.
More so, you will also leave the cinema with a deep curiosity and respect for the real-life Chesley Sullenberger. Here is a man with truly exceptional skills, who made an exceptional decision that saved the lives of 155 persons on a freezing January day. What was he thinking during those fateful moments? Would he do the same in a repeated situation? Did he ever regret his decision especially when interrogated by the NTSB?
I was obsessed with these questions after watching. That was when I realised how deeply Sully has affected me.
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