In the wrong hands, the story of Captain Chesley Sullenberger and the Miracle on the Hudson could have been a wishy-washy exercise in slobbering hero worship. Fortunately, director Clint Eastwood is after something much deeper - a study in what it means to be a hero, and the weight of responsibility and self-doubt that comes with it.
As a reminder: in 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 suffered unprecedented damage from a bird strike after takeoff, and Captain Sullenberger decided the best shot was to land in the Hudson River, saving all 155 aboard.
The movie gives us a look at the incident from a few perspectives shot thrillingly with IMAX cameras. But the real focus is on the aftermath as the NTSB investigates whether Sully was wrong.
Hey. Can we talk about how great Tom Hanks is? I mean in everything - even those terrible "DaVinci" movies. It feels like he's been at the top of his game for decades and we take it for granted. Here, he's subtle and nuanced as Sully - confident in his decisions but humble enough to admit doubt.
"Sully" is also the best movie Eastwood has made in a decade since "Letters from Iwo Jima." It feels deeply personal with the 86-year-old Eastwood telling the story of a man trusting his instincts and seasoned experience rather than relying on computer guidance. It's how Sully made the landing and it's how Eastwood makes movies.
Unlike Eastwood's last movie, the political lightning rod "American Sniper" which chose to ignore the historical implications surrounding its main character, "Sully" paints a much bigger picture. It's no accident this movie came out on the weekend of the 9/11 anniversary because the events of that day hang over this movie like a pall. We see what could have happened if the Captain had made different choices, potentially causing a similar tragedy.
And just like on 9/11, the movie shows us there were many heroes on this day in 2009, from first responders to air traffic control to the flight attendants and passengers aboard. But it's not overwrought or cheesy. "Sully" is stirring storytelling crafted by masters of their art.