Trying to bring down an American hero

Trying to bring down an American hero

(M) Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney

How do you define a hero? Do they put on capes and appear in comic books or are they ordinary people who do exceptional things in extraordinary situations?

On Thursday, January 15, 2009, US Airways captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhartwere steering a routine flight full of passengers who were hoping to escape the cold of New York City. Soon after take-off, though, the Airbus jetliner was hit by a flock of geese and both engines became inoperable. Relying on his 40 years of flying experience, Sully managed to land the jetliner on the Hudson River — next to Manhattan Island — with miraculously few injuries and no deaths occurring. The seasoned pilot became an instant celebrity and hero of the Big Apple (and the world). During the celebrations and adulation, there was tension behind the scenes, due to an immediate investigation into the plane’s fate. Sully was unable to celebrate with the world, due to the implications of what he was accused of during the landing and the potential impact that it would have on his career and his life.


From American Sniper to Sully, director Clint Eastwood continues to find the stories behind the unsung American heroes of this era. Captain Chelsey Sullenberger received his 15 minutes of fame, but Eastwood manages to take the pilot’s autobiographical sketch and deliver a compelling and celebratory drama. The quality of the director and cast in this production is evident, because they draw every shred of emotional capital out of the pilot’s short claim to fame. Eastwood is able to maintain the intensity of the action and investigation by showing different vantage points of the flight. These help us to see every aspect of the harrowing event. Also, he capitalises on Hank’s ability to capture the “everyman” essence of Sully; Hanks’ demonstrates the inner strength and vulnerability he’s known for on-screen. The Oscar-winning actor seems to be continuing a trend of playing real-life heroic figures, including ship captain Richard Phillips (Captain Phillips) and James B. Donovan (Bridge of Spies).

The strength of this film’s conciseness does expose some of its weaknesses, though. The brevity of the flight incident means Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki work exceptionally hard to maintain our attention. Through the inclusion of Sully’s past and his family, they pull this off with little difficulty. So, even though the story struggles to maintain its altitude throughout the film, overall it stays in the air. A common struggle that film-makers have is finding the antagonist in a story such as this. Those behind Sully have attempted to paint the crash-scene investigators as the villains through the majority of the film but, ultimately, they are merely showed to be trying to do their jobs. This makes for an unnecessary vilification of people who are attempting to get to the bottom of this unique event in history. Ultimately, these are minor issues for Sully and do not cause the engines to fail in this captivating real-life story.

Like American Sniper, there may be artistic license taken with the storyline, but the heart of the story makes for an enjoyable and compelling experience. Admittedly, Chelsey Sullenberger may not have the same bravado of American Sniper‘s Chris Kyle, but they seem to be men cut from the same cloth. Men whose stories should cause anyone from an American background to well up with patriotism and pride for the country of their origin.


What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?

How do you define a hero? This is a question that can take on a multitude of answers. From the fictional character to the unsung, humble members of our community, the label of hero can cut across cultures, genders, ages and nations.

Hero: a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character

This broad definition can be placed on many individuals throughout history, but there is only one person who truly fits into it without blemish. One whose courageous act was enough to save the world. It is hard to look pass Jesus as the true definition of hero. All others pail in comparison… and that’s not to diminish their value, but merely to point to the one who set the standard for true heroism.

Passages on defining heroes: Mark 9:35, John 15:3, John 3:17, and the Gospel of Luke


Russell Matthews works for City Bible Forum Sydney and is a film blogger



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