Oscar-winning director Clint Eastwood brings another real life, heroic story to the big screen with Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ drama “Sully,” featuring Oscar winner Tom Hanks as the everyman heroic captain, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who is a man of character and a role model for all. This inspiring movie arrived in theaters Sept. 9.
Seven years after 9/11, the world witnessed the “Miracle on the Hudson” when Captain “Sully” Sullenberger glided his disabled plane onto the frigid waters of the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 aboard. However, as Sully was being honored by the public and the media for his unprecedented feat of aviation skill, an investigation was unfolding that threatened to destroy his reputation and his career.
Recounting the real events that took place on the day of the water landing, the movie explores their very real aftermath. The plane carried 150 passengers and five crew members, yet not a single life was lost in the air or water. But as “Sully” reveals, in the days following what quickly came to be known as the “Miracle on the Hudson,” the pilot with a record of proficiency, years of experience and calm in the face of potential catastrophe would be called upon repeatedly to defend his actions to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
It was that part of the story, the one the world didn’t know, that drew Eastwood to the project. “Anybody who keeps their wits about them when things are going wrong, who can negotiate the problems without panicking, is someone of superior character and interesting to watch on film. But for me, the real conflict came after, with the investigative board questioning his decisions even though he’d saved so many lives.”
“I’m not an aviator,” says Hanks, “but I know you’re not supposed to be able to make a landing like that. This was a very pragmatic man who understood the realities of what he’d done and what it meant. He will never say he’s a hero, but knowing with confidence that he could make that landing? That was a heroic thing he did. And he paid a price for it.”
That cost was exacted both during the day, when he and his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles, were interrogated by the investigative board that night, when Sully was haunted by nightmares about what could have happened. The film, based on Sullenberger and author Jeffrey Zaslow’s book, “Highest Duty,” focuses on the untold story that public largely did not know.
Producer Allyn Stewart says of initial conversations with Sullenberger, “The second Sully started to give us the details of what happened to him after the event, I realized this was the real architecture of the movie. We found a great screenwriter, Todd Komarnicki, to adapt the book. He’s really good at getting under the skin of a normal guy, and that’s the essence of Sully; he’d be the first one to say he’s simply a man who did his job very well.”
“Sully is a man who prepared his whole life to do this one impossible thing that he didn’t know he was preparing for,” Komarnicki observes. “But when you meet him, after ten minutes with the guy, you understand; you think, ‘Of course he pulled this off and no one else could have.’ But the beauty of this movie is that we’re finally telling the full story. A true story that no one knows but everyone thinks they know. What a great mystery to unfold on screen.”
Producer Frank Marshall says, “After everything the world knew about Sully and the landing, what happened to him after he became instantly famous was fascinating. Todd’s approach to the screenplay was to take a story you’ve heard, like the key elements of that day, and turn it into one you haven’t, giving the audience a real feel of what it was like to be there.”
Dr. Diane Howard interviews the screenwriter, Todd Komarnicki to learn more about the untold story about what happened to Sully after the amazing water landing. Todd focuses in the interview largely on the role modeling character of Capt. Sullenberger.
DH: What drew you to this story?
TK: Warner Bros. Executive, Jonathan Berg, sent me a news clipping on this story and said that I should write the screenplay. I was guided by prayer in writing it.
DH: What are the some of the most significant themes?
TK: Our culture today needs to hear the themes in the movie of the value of the following: hard work, hope, honor, integrity, love, service and more.
DH: What is inspirational, inspiring about this story?
TK: In the wake of 9/11, seven years earlier, all involved in the New York rescue pulled together.
DH: How is Sully a role model?
TK: He is a hard-working professional, who has been involved in ongoing training for increasingly better safety. He has had ongoing standards of excellence.
DH: How does the movie relate to today?
TK: It presents hope and good news.
DH: As you interviewed Sully to find your story in his experiences, what did you find what especially remarkable, outstanding?
TK: In interviews, in his heartbeat, not in his book, I found a treasure trove of wisdom.
DH: How long did the investigation after the landing last and why?
TK: The investigation lasted 9 months. His case was not settled for 18 months, during which the unresolved “Sword of Damocles” hung over Sully’s head.
DH: How did he feel during that long period
TK: He felt alone, by himself, isolated.
DH: Why do you think real stories are important?
TK: Real stories like this can bring good news and hope. Hope is oxygen. There is a hole in the fabric of our lives on which the media generally focuses. We need to see the whole tapestry with a hopeful, whole picture.
DH: How are Tom Hanks and Sully everymen?
TK: They are everyman or everywoman in that they show that we can all be extraordinary.
Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, and Laura Linney all give outstanding performances. Comic relief throughout is refreshing. Although there are necessary flashbacks, the story keeps moving in intensity and moves towards an unexpected climactic point full of jeopardy and then into a heartwarming turning point and resolution. It is refreshing to see a dangerous airplane story from NYC’s recent history in which no lives were lost. Due to the persistence of Capt. Sullenberger to uncover the truth, no ongoing serious harm is done to anyone. Although this movie is rated PG-13 for its peril and brief strong language (which diminishes the movie somewhat), it is a feel-good, inspiring movie that has unexpected suspense despite that fact that it ends up presenting good news about a real “everyman” hero. It is wonderful to these types of Tom Hanks, Sully Sullenberger feel-good, good news movies about real everywoman and everyman heroes. Let’s hope that there are more of them.