Review – Fly the Unfriendly Skies (“Sully”)

Just because you see a real-live incident go down on TV, doesn’t mean you’re getting the whole story. Case in point: in 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 smacked into the Hudson River. It was HUGE TV news. The pilots, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenburger and First Officer Jeffery Skiles, saved the 155 people on board, but what happened afterwards… well, that’s the real story.

Working on a palette of just surface features and little else, director Clint Eastwood weaves a portrait of NYC heroes Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) and Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), and the ruthless NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) who seem hell bent and determined to crucify Sully because their computer simulations show that, at the time of the doomed flight, the damaged plane would have safely made it to nearby La Guardia or Teterboro airports, and thus avoided the crash. “It wasn’t a crash”, says Captain Sullenberger, “It was a forced water landing”. Big difference! Normally shy and calm, Sully is spring-boarded into the limelight by the press, while being scrutinized by people who don’t quite believe his story.
So while the NTSB jerks try and come up with reasons to discredit the Captain and make him look like a fool, the rest of the country is praising his name. But all this attention with the press is playing havoc with his health, while holed up in a Marriott hotel pending the investigation. Sully, plagued by terrible nightmares, away from his California stressed-out wife Lorraine (Laura Linney), and reliving the whole plane landing incident over and over again, isn’t helping his sleep any. But hey, he gets to go on Letterman, so…
Meanwhile, the baddies at the NTSB reveal to Sully that their flight simulations are impeccable and that the upcoming public hearing will, for all intents and purposes, show him to be at fault in the crash. But Sully, a 42 year veteran who ‘eyeballed’ the initial situation in the first place, realizes the missing key factor the NTSB never accounted for in their computers! The human equation!
You know the rest of the story… or do you? Eastwood, in an effort to make his movie more exciting (other than showing a plane ditching in the Hudson several times), had to tweak, or “Hollywood-ize”, the real events to create drama where there was none before. In fact, the NTSB were NOT the a-holes depicted in the movie out to ruin Sully’s good name. In real life, they were quite cool with Sully and no drama happened at all! The best parts of this movie are the Rashomon-style of witnessing the crash (sorry, ‘forced water-landing’) from different perspectives. Very nice CGI and, even though you KNOW that everyone lived, you still white-knuckle your seats.

Tom Hanks turns in another superlative acting job as the reluctant officer who, despite overwhelming odds and a million-to-one bird strike to the engines, kept his cool and not only saved all the passengers, but survived the glory and accolades thrust upon him afterwards. Based on Sully’s best-selling autobiography about what happened, screenwriter Todd Komarnicki (the forgettable Perfect Stranger and Resistance) just scratches the Sullenberger surface and throws in boring flashbacks to brief moments of Sully’s youth. Stick to the initial story, Hanks’ acting, and the incredible CGI photography, and you’ll do just fine.

Hero (1992)


Y’know in school when you get one of those silver stars in English for realllllllllllly trying hard, but you didn’t quite get it right for a gold star? Well, that’s what happened in 1992 with this comedy-gem-wanna-be that starred Dustin Hoffman, Geena Davis, Andy Garcia, and Chevy Chase. Yeah, they almost got it right.

Screenwriter David Webb Peoples co-wrote some pretty cool movies. Blade Runner, Twelve Monkeys, Unforgiven, and Ladyhawke, to name a few. But every writer has a hiccup in their repertoire and this one is his. Hoffman plays “Bernie” LaPlante, a selfish petty criminal and bum who, against his nature, anonymously rescues survivors of an airline crash in order to steal some of their purses and wallets… losing his shoe in the process. His identity a mystery–even to his wife (Joan Cusack) and young son (James Madio)–as well as the world. Bernie later meets homeless Vietnam veteran John Bubber (Garcia) and tells him about the rescue, giving him his remaining shoe. Oops! Bad move!

When a television station offers $1 million to the “Angel of Flight 104”, Bernie can’t claim the reward, due to his arrest record, but Bubber uses Bernie’s single shoe to take credit for the act. Bernie tries to tell people that Bubber is a fake, but the media sensationalizes the heroic Bubber, and everyone wants to believe in him rather than Bernie… especially reporter Gale Gayley (Davis), who Bernie actually rescued. Gale grooms Bubber for TV and starts to fall for this super nice guy, while Bernie goes nuts at his audacity. Gale’s TV boss (Chase) just wants the news as the TV audience loves Bubber. However, when the police find Gale’s stolen credit cards and they lead to Bernie, she starts to put two and two together.

There’s a silly ‘cliff hanger’ scene on an actual skyscraper ledge where Bubber threatens to jump and Bernie goes out to save him. When he arivves, Bernie goes out on the ledge, hatching a scheme to milk the media attention for all its worth. Ultimately, he convinces Bubber that the world needs a hero, and that Bubber is clearly the right guy for the job, though he does negotiate a discreet share of the $1 million. When Bernie slips off the ledge, Bubber grabs him and pulls him to safety, a (true) hero once more. When she sees Bernie’s face with dirt on it, as on the night of the crash, Gale realizes it was Bernie who saved her.

Despite being directed by Stephen Frears, this movie tanked at the box office. However, it does have its moments that are reminiscent of the old screwball comedies of the 1940’s where over-lapping dialoge and fast-paced action was comedy gold. You can see it here and there in patches with Hoffman (falling back on his Ratzo Rizzo persona a little) and, of course, Chevy Chase, who does his ‘thing’ and lets loose with his usual outrageous ad-libbing with Geena Davis.


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