I remember working on my computer on January 15, 2009. The news came over the radio that someone had landed a plane in the Hudson. At first, I thought a small one had crashed. Then I learned it was a jumbo jet, US Airways Flight 1549, with 155 passengers and crew. A flock of Canadian geese disabled both engines, forcing Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River. Everyone survived thanks to the pilots and the quick thinking of rescuers.
The movie gives us that plus the investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, which first thought the plane could have turned back. The opening scene shows that scenario most likely would have ended in the disastrous crash of the plane. As the investigation plays out the film delves into what could have been with multiple replays of the incident and how the questions the investigation created affected Sully.
Sully grossed $12.2 million on Friday, its opening day, and ended Sunday with an estimated $35.5 million, making it the third best live action opening for Tom Hanks and the second best for Clint Eastwood after American Sniper. It’s also the fifth largest September opening. Domestic projections range anywhere from $105 to $130 million plus. Internationally, it did an estimated $9.5 million in 39 markets. With more to come as it opens in Japan in two weeks.
Although audiences seemed pleased with the movie, critics had mixed feelings. One called the drama “Flight minus the cocaine, Denzel Washington, and fun.” Another said the secondary characters were one-dimensional. Both suggested the drama was more of a political statement than a recounting of the actual tale, but gave kudos to an make-up aged Hanks for his portrayal of Sully. Others had much happier praise. According to Christopher Orr of the Atlantic, “If Tom Hanks did not exist, Eastwood would have to invent him.” David Edelstein of Vulture said, “One third of Sully is really good. As a young man, Eastwood was a passenger in a plane that crash-landed in water, and he knows how to evoke the feeling of the ground coming up fast.”
There is already talk of an Oscar nod for this film. I hope it happens because we need more fresh, heroic stories like this celebrated and honored.