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Film / Sully

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"This is the captain. Brace for impact."
Captain Chesley Sullenberger

A 2016 film Based on a True Story, that of US Airways Flight 1549 and the emergency that occurred upon take-off from New York City's LaGuardia Airport on January 15, 2009, wherein they lost all engine power after hitting a flock of geese and had to make an emergency water landing in the Hudson River. Tom Hanks plays Captain Chesley Sullenberger (a.k.a. "Sully") and Aaron Eckhart plays his co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles. It is directed by Clint Eastwood. Screenwriter Todd Komarnicki adapted the story from Sullenberger's autobiography Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters.

The film spends time depicting the events surrounding the incident, with a particular note given towards the National Transportation Safety Board's investigation on if the water landing was absolutely necessary. Sully himself is confident in his skills and experience that it was his only option, but is concerned that the impartial investigation might find fault.

Sully provides examples of:

  • Ace Pilot: Sully downplays this, saying he simply ran on instinct and training to make the best of a bad situation and was sure to give credit to the rest of the flight crew, Air Traffic Control, and those who responded after the landing.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The actual investigation of the incident is barely touched on, which is a shame; NTSB detective work showed that the bird-strike tests on the engines were woefully insufficient for real-world conditions and that a bird strike that could take out both engines could easily happen again.
  • Adaptational Villainy: In Real Life, the NTSB is the gold standard for investigating the how and why of transportation accidents. They're so good that, when other countries suffer this, they turn to the NTSB for help. Their professional position is "no fear, no favor" — they don't cross-examine, they gather all the data they can before they start making conclusions, and in reality, worked closely with the flight crew, the passengers, the airline, and experts to try and determine the root cause. In real life, their investigation into the Miracle on the Hudson had the NTSB praising Sully and his crew, awarding all of them medals, and saying that the right call was made the whole time. In the movie, the NTSB as a whole are portrayed as skeptics towards Sully, who repeatedly insist that he didn't have to ditch into the river until the 35-second delay is brought up by Sully himself, and then only realize that he made the right call. The real Chesley Sullenberger was not happy with this, and threatened to withdraw from doing press from the movie unless Eastwood cut several of the more "villainous" scenes.
  • Agony of the Feet: One of the flight attendants, Doreen Welsh, gets this when the airplane lands in the Hudson, causing a support strut to snap, punch through the cabin floor, and lacerate her lower leg. This was the worst injury of the incident, both on film and in reality.
  • Anachronic Order: The movie opens with Sully startled awake after a nightmare mere days after the event. The film shuffles back and forth between the aftermath and recreating the events of what happened.
  • Artistic License – History: A large number of aspects regarding the NTSB investigation were exaggerated, to the point that the organization complained about their portrayal in the film. Even Sullenberger's memoir that the film is based on, Highest Duty, paints a very different picture to what is seen in the film.
    • The NTSB believed Sully almost right from the get-go, noting that the simulations brought back a 50% success rate. They, and not Sullenberger, suggested adding the 35-second decision-making time before running more simulations, which only bolstered their confidence that Sully made the right call. In the film, the board treats him with skepticism, even after they run their simulations, until Sully points out that the decision-making time was an unrecognized factor and asks them to replay their simulations with that variable.
    • Investigators said that Sully and Skiles were comfortable and cooperative, and that they had no intent to embarrass them because they were practically certain they'd made the right decision. In the film, the investigators antagonize Sully and Skiles several times, calling him out for holding media appearances in the wake of the incident and implying that he may have been at fault.
    • In the film, the cockpit recordings are played mere days after the incident, in a packed inquiry hearing with dozens of onlookers present. In reality, the recordings were played for the first time four months after the event, to a room of six people.
    • In addition, it's illegal for the NTSB to release the actual cockpit recordings. They can only release the written transcript.
    • At least one real NTSB investigator Robert Benzon claimed that the film has overall smeared his reputation. And, that it's as ridiculous as the "Sharknado" series.
  • As Himself:
    • Vincent Lombardi, the captain of the Thomas Jefferson, the ferry that was the first to reach the plane, plays himself.
    • In the scene where NYPD Scuba Team members Michael Delaney and Robert Rodriguez jump out of the helicopter, the stunts are performed by the real Delaney and Rodriguez.
  • Badass Boast: When Barry Leonard is on a rescue boat after almost freezing to death, he says he was sure he was going to die. A crew member replies, "Hey, No one dies today."
  • Being Good Sucks: Despite being hailed as a hero worldwide and getting massive publicity and fame out of the deal, Sully is morose and distracted due to PTSD, the NTSB investigation, his nightmares, and being separated from his family. Up until the public inquiry, the NTSB board treats him with cold respect at best and complete skeptics at worst. It isn't until the board hears the cockpit recording that they (or rather, one member speaking for all of them) apologize to him.
  • The Captain: Sullenberger does everything he can to get his passengers and crew out alive, including being the last one to exit the plane.
  • Catapult Nightmare: The film opens with flight 1549 crashing into downtown Manhattan, followed by Sully bolting upright in bed.
  • Chekhov's Skill: A flashback shows a younger Sully successfully flying a damaged and smoking jet fighter and landing it, all while the air traffic controller is attempting to talk him out of it (claiming that he's flying too fast). It's this knowledge and confidence in his own abilities that allows him to successfully calculate that he won't be able to reach the two alternate runways and make a water landing in the Hudson instead.
  • The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: Sully and Skiles' reaction to both the computer simulations and the piloted ones, complete with calling out the Teterboro one as having an unrealistic bank angle, likely steeper than the A320 could reasonably achieve in a glide.
  • Danger Deadpan: During the entire emergency, Sully only once raises his voice — when calling out to any possible remaining passengers during one last walk-through of the downed and sinking plane. Sully's calmness initially caused Patrick Harten, the air traffic controller to sound like emergencies was a regular thing for him when he said he had to land the plane in the Hudson. This was actually Truth in Television.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: While watching a news report on the incident, Sully hears someone mention good timing and realizes that's what made the difference between the simulations and the actual flight.
  • Everybody Lives: The reason Sully and crew are considered heroes is, despite unbelievably bad circumstances, they managed to pull off an emergency water landing with all 155 people on board surviving (including the crew). The worst injury that happens is a laceration in Flight Attendant Doreen Welsh's leg.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: There is some very slight friction between Sully and Skiles before take-off. Skiles affectionately calls Sully a "world-class bullshitter" note  and Sully takes some offense to that. But their expert handling of the situation and Skiles' consistent defense of Sully's actions make them close friends by the end.
  • Foregone Conclusion: It's mentioned early in the film that everybody on board survived the crash. Moreover, this is a well-known fact about Flight 1549, so there isn't a lot of suspense about the outcome of the accident.
  • Gallows Humor: Loads of it. A son got separated in the evacuation from his dad and cousin and called them after they got to shore, they both found themselves laughing hysterically and grateful that everything turned out okay.note  The flight crew are shown on David Letterman and they laugh over the cliche of "Brace for impact." Skiles ends the film, after being asked if he'd do anything different if forced to do it again, saying "I would've done it in July."note 
  • The Glomp: The employee at the Marriott Hotel in New Jersey does this to Sully after he attempts to downplay his role in the incident, telling him that he's a hero in her eyes and he can ask for any requests from the hotel. Sully is bemused (and his friends amused) that he's just been hugged by a complete stranger.
  • Hell Is That Noise: [WHOOP WHOOP] "PULL UP."note 
  • Heroic Bystander: Vincent Lombardi and his NY Waterway colleagues. Commuter ferries aren't usually involved in large-scale rescue operations, but they end up playing a vital role in this one because the plane just happened to splash down near their boats.note 
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: The skepticism of the NTSB was greatly exaggerated for the film, and they can be seen at several points making snide comments to both Sully and Skiles, despite their claims otherwise. Both computer simulations and humans in simulators actually recorded a 50% chance of success, and the real Sully insisted names be changed (they were) because every aspect of the investigation is standard. That said, no one was antagonizing Sully but was just bringing up issues of concern. note 
  • Humble Hero: At the hotel after the crash, an employee tells Sully and Skiles they'll take care of any of their needs. Since Sully only had his captain's uniform with him, he politely asks if it would be inconvenient if they dry cleaned it. The employee is taken back by his sincerity, and she even gives him a hug.
  • I Will Only Slow You Down: Lucille, who is elderly and uses a wheelchair has trouble getting out of her airplane seat during the evacuation and tells her daughter Diane to go on without her. Diane refuses; a moment later, one of the flight attendants and another passenger help both of them.
  • Insistent Terminology: Sully himself asserts that they didn't crash into the Hudson, it was a controlled water landing. "Crash" made it sound like an accident.
  • Match Cut: As Sully is out running, he sees an F-4 Phantom on display at the Intrepid and flashes back to an incident where he landed a crippled F-4. After he gets it on the ground, his old plane flashes back to the one he's looking at.
  • My Greatest Failure: Patrick Harten, the air traffic controller at LaGuardia Airport gets this when he thinks the airplane has crashed into the river (or worse) and spends several minutes blaming himself as he sits for a post-incident interview with officials. It isn't until someone comes in and reveals that the crew and passengers are all alive and off that his expression and demeanor completely change.note 
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In-universe, the accusations against Sully.
  • Nightmare Sequence: Of a dramatic kind. The film opens with Sully having a nightmare where he attempted to reach an airport and ends up crashing into the city. It's literally his greatest nightmare of that situation.

  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Just look at the expressions on a driver on the George Washington bridge, a New York man in his apartment and New York office workers as they look out the window to see the airplane flying much lower than any passenger jetliner has any business flying. Recall that this happened in New York City, little more than seven years after 9/11.
    • The NTSB board also gets this once they realize that, after factoring in the 35-second "decision-making" process, the pilots in the simulations were unable to land the aircraft, with one crashing right into a building.
    • Sully and Skiles have this on their faces when they just barely clear the George Washington Bridge and start to realize they're too low to make any of the available airports.
  • Once More, with Clarity: The water landing is seen at least three different times, each with a different perspective. The most comprehensive comes in the middle of the film, showing the initial boarding, take-off, landing in the Hudson, rescue efforts and accounting for all passengers. While not manipulative, it shows what happened from multiple perspectives including the air traffic controller and emergency response teams and that's why there's some doubt on Sully's actions. At the final hearing, real-time recording of the dialogue from the POV of the cockpit makes it clear that by the time they figured out what was going on and air traffic could coordinate an emergency airport landing zone they didn't have near enough altitude to make a return trip.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Chesley Sullenberger is known simply as "Sully" and referred to as such by nearly everyone in the film.
  • Present-Day Past: There are a few giveaways that the movie was made post-2009; 432 Park Avenue (completed 2015) in the Manhattan skyline, and the 2013 American Airlines livery redesign in the background for example.
  • The Real Heroes: Sully's last words are saying that he alone shouldn't be commended, for it was also Skiles, the air traffic controllers, the flight attendants, the ferry crews, the emergency response teams, and even the passengers that made the event inspirational rather than a disaster.
  • Real-Person Epilogue: While the credits roll, there is video footage of the real Sully, his wife and the people who were on board the plane.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Of a more pragmatic variety than most examples: Skiles acknowledges that Sully didn't go through the entire checklist when landing the plane, justifying his decision by stating that if he had, everyone would have died. One of the factors involved is that the checklist contemplated total engine failure at 30,000 feet,note  while Sully lost both engines at only 2,800 feet, giving him significantly less time to make a decision that would mean life or death for everyone aboard.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: One of the passengers attempts to swim towards the shore once the plane lands in the river, but doesn't get very far before he realizes he's in subzero temperatures. While he manages to swim back to the life rafts, a woman other has to be rescued by NYPD divers. note 
  • Strawman Political: The film makes the NTSB investigators look like skeptics towards Sully. In reality, their investigation cleared him.note  Since Clint Eastwood is a staunch conservative libertarian, it seemed obvious for him to blame a government agency for whatever wrongdoings actually occurrednote 
  • This Is Reality: Sully notes that, in the initial simulations at the NTSB hearing, the pilots automatically know what kind of situation they were in, immediately heading for LaGuardia or Teterboro once the bird strikes take place. He reminds the NTSB that this was a real-life event without precedent, and that it took him and Skiles 3 minutes and 28 seconds to run through enough of the checklists (trying — and failing — to restart the engines, for instance) to realize the true nature of their situation. note The NTSB conceded the point and introduced a 35-second time delay into the revised simulations.