The Role Of Captain Sullenberger Was One Tom Hanks Says He Couldn’t Turn Down

The last time audiences saw Tom Hanks in a major motion picture, he was playing the heroic Captain Phillips in the award-winning movie of the same name. He’s back at the wheel of another heroic character and this time he’s playing Captain “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who glided his disabled plane onto the frigid waters of New York’s Hudson River.  For the Oscar-winning actor, it’s a role that was impossible to turn down.

“Sometimes you read something that is so stirring and I knew I wanted at least a shot at it, even though I’d been working pretty steadily for about six years,” shares the actor, who postponed a well-earned break to join the cast.  “I felt like I couldn’t pass up the chance.”


Based on the real events that took place on January 15, 2009 when a veteran pilot averted a potential disaster by choosing to land on the Hudson River and saving 155 folks onboard, the movie focuses primarily on the National Transportation Safety Board investigation into whether his decision was justified.

“I’m not an aviator, but I know you’re not supposed to be able to make a landing like that. This was a very pragmatic man who understood the realities of what he’d done and what it meant,” continues Hanks who is one of only two actors in history to win back-to-back Best Actor Academy Awards.

Directed by Clint Eastwood, the film begins with Sully (Hanks) being grilled by officials (Anna Gunn, Mike O’Malley, Jamey Sheridan) over what took place onboard the airliner and why he declined instructions to return to LaGuardia Airport for a safer landing. Despite being hailed a hero by the passengers and crew whose lives he saved, the implication is that he risked hundreds – if not thousands – of lives by choosing the river as a runway.

TOM HANKS plays Captain Sullenberger
TOM HANKS plays Captain Sullenberger

Recounting the real events, “Sully” not only features the terrifying moments that everyone on the plane went through, but also the incredible rescue efforts that were immediately undertaken to get the stranded passengers out of the river’s frigid waters.  The film also explores their very real aftermath of how Sully and his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles (played by Aaron Eckhart), were being interrogated by the investigative board, and the constant nightmares he had about what could have happened had he turned that plane around in search of a less watery airfield. With a few minutes dedicated to the actual crash, most of the screen time is spent following the pilots as they battle with government bureaucrats.

The acting is solid, but there’s little suspense in this 96-minute film as most will never forget those media images of the passengers standing on the wings of the plane on the river in freezing weather, but seeing how the actual events unfold in IMAX does make it worth watching. The film, which is being released on a 9/11 anniversary weekend, has some extremely impressive special effects. The FX team delivers a remarkable visual rendition of the forced water landing, which occurred moments after takeoff from New York’s LaGuardia Airport, after a flock of birds struck the US Airways and took out both engines. Hollywood loves its heroes, which explains why “Sully” made it to the big screen, and the reason why this pilot’s actions are so famous is because there were no casualties. Hanks’, having played numerous real life characters, expertly portrays a good man who did an even greater thing. “His heroic act was to follow his instincts as opposed to the steps in the book. He would never say he is a hero, but that was one heroic thing he did.  It is a quintessential New York story.”

The supporting cast includes Laura Linney in the pivotal role of Lorrie Sullenberger, Michael Rapaport, Holt McCallany, and ferryboat Captain Vincent Peter Lombardi, playing himself. There’s an unforgettable scene in the film where recalling 9/11, someone says, “It’s been a while since New York had news this good, especially with an airplane in it.” To which, Captain Sullenberger responds, “I think it gave everyone a chance to have hope, at a time when we all needed it.”

It’s a basic story of a heroic act, but the chance to see an IMAX-shot recreation of the landing of a commercial airliner in the middle of an icy river is worth watching.

“Sully” is out in theaters Friday.

Samantha Ofole-Prince is an entertainment journalist who covers industry-specific news. Follow her on twitter @SamanthaOfole

Photos courtesy of Warner Bros.

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