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Film / Sully

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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 (aka "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 particular note given towards the NTSB 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.

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  • 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: The NTSB is depicted as this and it's one of the biggest criticisms of the movie. In Real Life, the NTSB is the gold standard for investigating the how and why of transportation accidents, so good that, when other countries suffer this, they turn to them 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 flight crew, passengers, the airline and experts to try and determine the root cause. In the movie, they simply end up as skeptical antagonists towards Sully.
  • Adult Fear:
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    • You can board an airplane that is in good condition, designed to meet industry standards in terms of safety and reliability, with an experienced, even exceptional, pilot. However, just a few bird strikes and the entire plane goes down. Sure, everyone survived, but Sully's The Real Heroes speech notes what could have happened otherwise. The success of the landing was dependent on a lot of variables, not just the people involved, but the fact that Sully had a conveniently-placed wide river with enough traffic so that there could be boats to rescue the passengers, but not so much traffic that the landing would endanger anyone.
    • A more visceral example is the mother holding a child who boards the plane. As the plane descends towards the river, the baby can be heard crying while the mother screams, and another man offers to hold the child for her in an attempt to calm it down.note 
  • 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.)
  • All Just a Dream: This is how the movie starts.
  • 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 the memoir 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 disdain, 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 it was all his 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 is 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 the film is as ridiculous as the "Sharknado" films.
  • As Himself: Vincent Lombardi, the captain of the ferry who was the first to reach the plane, is played by his real-life counterpart.
  • Bad Dreams: Sully suffers from this throughout the film, envisioning several scenarios in which the plane crashes into downtown Manhattan. Additionally, he has a dream where Katie Couric muses about whether he made the right choice or not before he wakes with a start.
  • 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 the NTSB investigation, his Bad Dreams and being separated from his family. Up until the public inquiry, the NTSB board treats him with cold respect at best and complete dismissal at worst. It isn't until the board hears the cockpit recording that they (or rather, one member) give him the closest thing to an apology.
  • 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 simulations, complete with calling out the Teterboro simulation 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 plane. Sully' calmness initially caused the air traffic controller to refuse to take him seriously when he said he had to land the plane in the Hudson. This was actually Truth in Television.
  • Everybody Lives: Just like in the Real Life incident. The reason Sully and crew are considered heroes is, despite unbelievably bad circumstances, they managed to pull off a water landing with no lives lost and no severe injuries.
  • 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.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: There is a very slight animosity 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 made them close friends by the end.
  • For Want of a Nail: Sully is haunted by nightmares of what could have happened had he not taken the course he had taken. They involve flying so low that he would crash into buildings. The Flight Simulation at the end, after installing the prescribed 35 second delay, also have glimpses of what could have happened.
  • 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 just grateful everything turned out okay. 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."
  • 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.
  • Hell Is That Noise: [WHOOP WHOOP] "PULL UP."note 
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: The cynicism 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.
  • 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.
  • Insistent Terminology: Sully himself asserts that they did not 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 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: 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 sits for a post-incident interview with officials. It isn't until someone comes in and reveals that the crew and passengers are all okay that his expression and demeanor completely change.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Just look at the expressions on 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 plowing right into a populated suburb.
    • 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 is 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: Sully, of course.
  • Present-Day Past: There are a few giveaways that the movie was made a few years after 2009; 432 Park Avenue (completed 2015) on 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 but it was the air traffic controllers, the entire flight crew, the ferry ones, the emergency response teams and even the passengers that made the event inspirational rather than a disaster.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Of a more pragmatic variety than most examples: Sully acknowledges that he did not 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, 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!: Two of the passengers attempt to swim towards the shore once the plane lands in the river, but both don't get very before they realize they're in subzero temperatures. While one manages to swim/float back to the liferafts, the other has to be rescued by NYPD divers. note 
  • Strawman Political: The film makes the NTSB investigators look like skeptics, trying to bring Sully down. In reality, their investigation cleared him.note 
  • This Is Reality: Sully notes that, in the initial simulations at the NTSB hearing, the pilots automatically know what kind of situation they are 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 35 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.
  • Visual Pun: 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 is literally his greatest nightmare of that situation.

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