Chesley Sullenberger (Tom Hanks), known as Sully, was on a U.S. Airways flight in 2009, mid-January, when the unthinkable happened, though that is what has been playing on his mind ever since, and it is now around a week later. What would have happened if the plane had crashed? He was the pilot, and now has nightmares of the worst case scenario where the accident resulting from a strike by a flock of birds gave him no options at all, and he and his aircraft hit a building, killing all on board and many on the ground. That did not happen, as it turned out, for he managed to guide the stricken plane into the Hudson River, thereby saving everyone and preventing the need for any victims on the ground as well. He is a hero - but what does that mean?
As a director, as a star for that matter, Clint Eastwood was always interested in the concept of heroism, and did his best to subvert that with many of his films, even the lighter hearted ones which would be given depth by their sense of humour. There was little sense of humour on display in Sully, his account based on Todd Komarnicki's screenplay, as this was deadly serious, or rather not deadly because thanks to the efforts of the pilot of the title, nobody died, which in a world wanting for heroes was precisely what everyone wanted to hear in 2009. Here was an unironic protagonist in a true tale of rescue, someone we could all agree was held up as an exemplary man of action when such ideas were under siege.
Or they were according to Eastwood, who painted Sully as a man whose activities on that flight could never have been called into question, but actually were as the query arose whether he could have handled the accident in a different way: it was not enough for the investigators to be assured he had saved the passengers and crew, he had to have saved the aeroplane as well. Naturally this turned out to be complete rubbish, air crash investigators never assign blame and are not a legal body who can punish those they have deemed unfit to fly, which put an unwelcome angle on what was presumably supposed to be a celebration of the man Hanks portrayed, his second embodiment of a man caught up in a 2009 news story after Captain Phillips.
The investigative body had good reason to feel aggrieved, especially when the production made such a great play of representing themselves as conducting the recreation of the crash as faithfully as possible, but then there was the point that whether a dry description of the aftermath that did not culminate in a courtroom drama would have been quite as emotionally effective. And besides, Eastwood was using this true tale as a meditation on where the stories of his youth, which championed down to earth people doing great things in the service of their fellow man and woman, had wound up at this place where everything had to be shown to have a downside, even a dark side, as the real life hero of his previous movie, American Sniper had suffered in the aftermath of the release.
That had seen the hero accused of being anything but, and the war in the Middle East as not a premise for cheering when it had caused so much misery, so it was as if with Sully Eastwood was saying, what about this, then? I suppose you'll find a way to pick holes in this yarn as well? From a deceptively "just the facts" approach to the material, which came across as methodical and fair on the surface, it was clear after the credits rolled that there was plenty confrontational, even aggravated, about the film. Did the director have a point, were we living in an age where sniping of a different kind, that sort that sees every professional taken down for some apparent misdemeanour, real or imagined, was ruling the common conversation about everyone, be they in the public eye or otherwise? You could certainly see his view had some validity when the notion of a juicy story was now relying on how far you could dig the dirt on someone rather than what their finest moments had been, and with Sully, unquestionably an admirable man, Eastwood was illustrating how the most heroic of all were prey to doubts in a society that bred them virulently. It was for that reason, the genuine good works in a world where they hardly applied anymore, that this film was ultimately moving; how honest it was would be up to your own opinion. Music by Christian Jacob and The Tierney Sutton Band; Eastwood penned the theme.
Becoming a superstar in the late 1960s gave Clint Eastwood the freedom to direct in the seventies. Thriller Play Misty for Me was a success, and following films such as High Plains Drifter and The Outlaw Josey Wales showed a real talent behind the camera as well as in front of it. He won an Oscar for his downbeat Western Unforgiven, which showed his tendency to subvert his tough guy status in intriguing ways. Another Oscar was awarded for boxing drama Million Dollar Baby, which he also starred in.
Also a big jazz fan, as is reflected in his choice of directing the Charlie Parker biopic Bird. Other films as director include the romantic Breezy, The Gauntlet, good natured comedy Bronco Billy, Honkytonk Man, White Hunter Black Heart, The Bridges of Madison County, OAPs-in-space adventure Space Cowboys, acclaimed murder drama Mystic River, complementary war dramas Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima and harrowing true life drama Changeling. Many considered his Gran Torino, which he promised would be his last starring role (it wasn't), one of the finest of his career and he continued to direct with such biopics as Jersey Boys and American Sniper to his name.