Clint Eastwood's last film, American Sniper, was an unprecedented success, going on to be the highest grossing film of 2014 despite having an R-rating. He will be looking to capitalize on that success with his next film, Sully, starring Tom Hanks, which tells the tale of famous airplane pilot Chesley Sullenberger, whose tactical landing on the Hudson River in 2009 made him an overnight hero.
However, this story didn't end with him being a hero, instead his decision-making soon came under intense scrutiny by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), creating intense strain upon his personal life. Sully (in a similar vein to Flight) will look to capitalize upon that tension to create an engaging drama.
Check out the Sully trailer below:
But what did just happen on that fateful day? Lets take a look at the true story behind US Airways Flight 1549.
Miracle on the Hudson
The flight - which took place on January 5th 2009 - was only six minutes long. After only 90 seconds in the air, the Airbus A320-214 was hit in both engines by a flock of Canada geese. After debating whether or not to land in New Jersey or LaGuardia, Sully decided there was no time, landing in the Hudson River. At one point the plane was a mere 900 feet above the George Washington bridge. The forced landing was successful, and has been described as “the most successful ditching in aviation history".
A Real Hero?
He was instantly acclaimed a hero for his grace under pressure, getting telephone calls from outgoing president Bush and president-elect Obama, and was voted the second most influential man in the 2009 Time Top 100.
Sully is a quiet man, and responded to his accolades modestly. According to his friend, Ann Sholer:
"Sully is such a humble guy – if you ask him about his work, he’ll usually say something like, ‘There’s not much to talk about. You take off and you land'"
He was even referenced in the soundtrack to Drive, with College mentioning the landing in the second verse of "A Real Hero":
The screenplay of Sully is an adaptation of his own book called Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters, in which he details the stress he felt as a result of the subsequent FAA investigation. Whilst the FAA eventually found the cause of the plane tanking to be the same as Sully's statement, they had to see whether or not he did the right thing by ditching the plane in the Hudson.
Airbus simulations took place in France where only eight out of fifteen simulations showed the success of flying back to either airport. It took until May 28th 2010 for Sully to be validated as doing the right thing - over a year since he ditched the plane. What was found to be slightly disconcerting with the state of the plane is that it had suffered engine problems just two days beforehand. No emergency landing was made that day, but suggests that maybe the plane should have been decommissioned.
The First Hearing was on February 24th 2009. Sully used this platform to criticise the industry:
"September 11th, bankruptcies, fluctuating fuel prices, mergers, loss of pensions, and revolving-door management teams who have used airline employees as an ATM, have left the people who work for the airlines in the United States with extreme economic difficulties."
He mentioned that these changes to the industry have led to a real impact upon his wages:
"My pay has been cut 40 percent, my pension, like most airline pensions, has been terminated and replaced by a PBGC guarantee worth only pennies on the dollar"
He also criticised safety measures onboard American flights:
"There are many aircraft that fly domestically that are not required to have life vests on board, or life rafts, and instead rely upon seat cushions. Had we had one of those airplanes and not an airplane equipped for over water use, this would have been a much more challenging situation."
For someone thrust into the public limelight, Sully certainly didn't mince his words, using the opportunity to lacerate an industry he felt had certainly lost its way. This hearing, the report of which is 251 pages long, saw Sully being interviewed on every aspect of his technical competence and flying experience, something he found hard because he was also suffering at the time from PTSD:
"My blood pressure is normally 108 over over 60, and it was 160 over 100 for ten weeks... I couldn’t sleep more than 45 minutes at a time for the first couple of nights. I didn't return to a normal sleep pattern for many months."
It seemed that for Sully, despite having much respect and love for his profession, did not want to be labelled as a hero, much rather wishing for a decent wage and a quiet life. As he says:
"You know I am not into the "m" word any more than I am into the "h" word. It was not a miracle"
It seems that the true story reveals a more nuanced side of events to the number two Time man of 2009, which hopefully Sully will be able to delicately tease out.
The Real Losers in This "Miracle"
The real world consequences of the event seem to bely the "miracle" interpretation. Whilst there were no human casualties, the impact upon the Canadian Geese in the surrounding area was severe, with up to 1,235 being taken away and gassed. Given the threat these large birds have had to aviation safety, this was seen by many as a necessary precaution, but still a sad byproduct of the situation.
How Will Clint Eastwood Approach The Material?
Eastwood is at once an establishment republican and a revisionist filmmaker. His films and his public persona may reflect conservative values, yet his best work finds a way of complicating straightforward interpretations of the truth. Think Unforgiven - thought of by many to be the last great western - turning conventional narrative into something much more morally ambiguous, or American Sniper, which simultaneously managed to celebrate and interrogate the modern Iraqi war hero.
This moral grey area is in turn reflected by his notoriously dark cinematography. Eastwood will be likely to play around with the conventional idea of being a hero, and who better to play against type than Tom Hanks? This should be an intriguing investigation of what it means to be held up in the media as something that you don't one hundred believe in yourself. If Eastwood turns this true-life story into cinematic gold, it could be a serious Oscar contender.
What Do You Think? Will This Be Another Eastwood Masterpiece?