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Cinema in Focus: ‘Sully’

4 Stars — Inspiring

Being a “hero” in the real world doesn’t mean that you possess superpowers, but rather such acclaim often depends on circumstances and talents that are far less dramatic.

It means doing the right thing at the right time with the instincts, skills and internal gifting that is uniquely yours.

More often than not, we describe people as heroes when they are “trusting in something beyond themselves to guide them at a moment’s notice when they don’t know what to do.”

This is seen in the extraordinary skill that allowed US Airways Capt. Chesley “Sully”​ Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) to land a disabled airliner in the Hudson River on Jan. 15, 2009.

After striking a flock of birds upon takeoff from New York’s LaGuardia Airport, disabling both engines, his actions became legendary and turned his private life into that of a public hero.

He didn’t see it coming, he didn’t jump into superman, but he relied on intangible skills that had been honed over a lifetime of flying — so that in a matter of 208 seconds he saved the lives of all 155 people aboard Flight 1549.

Beyond the depth of the story, the construction of Sully has been masterfully done by the increasingly talented Clint Eastwood, who at age 86 is making some of the best movies of his distinguished career.

The staging, the dramatic effects and the realism of what happened on the Hudson is among the best ever put on the silver screen. Even the film’s theme music was written by Eastwood.

Sully is as much a tribute to Eastwood’s skill as it is to the man it honors, and it is worth seeing simply as a remarkable piece of artfully crafted cinema.

What happens on that plane is experienced in dramatic, painfully real moments. From the cockpit to the main cabin, each individual saw their lives flashing before them.

Flying for most people has become routine, if not boring. The “art of traveling” as a respite to be enjoyed and savored, has turned for most into an endurance test. This is not the experience of a first-class voyage on the Queen Mary, but rather a cattle car in the sky.

What happens, though, when you have a little time to examine the fact that your life might be coming to an end? In most “accidents,” such as in an automobile, the unforeseen happens in an instant and your life is irrevocably changed, but more likely than not you survive.

In the descent of an airliner, 208 seconds of time can seem like a lifetime, and you are faced with your readiness to die, your regrets, your sense of loss of family, and most often a sense of panic.

In the cockpit, the reality and the need to do everything possible to save the lives of everyone on board consumes every emotion that you have. That is not a clean-cut process.

Most of Sully is focused on the investigation that occurs sometime after the incident when Sullenberger and co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) are put through a review as part of a routine crash investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration. Whether the portrayal of this investigation is completely accurate, or not, is subject to speculation, but the drama and angst that it caused is news to most observers, and makes for a much deeper and compelling story.

The “facts” of the crash landing could be recreated by a computer showing that the plane could have made it to an airport with a safe landing. Sullenberger argued that the intangible emotions and confusion that naturally occur in a situation like this are not taken into account by a computer simulation, and the investigators need to understand the nature of how people react in dangerous situations.

We won’t give away the heart of the debate that gives this film so much depth, but it is a masterful look at human nature.

Most of us assume — and desire — someone at the controls of every part of our lives who is “calm, cool and collected.” At the same time, most of us don’t have a clear picture of what it takes to build a strong internal nature to get someone to that place in their life where they possess that skill.

When we send our kids off to school or college to give them the knowledge they need to “get a job,” then we have only completed half the process.

In addition, we need to model, teach and routinely surround our children with examples of people who possess deep values and tempered emotional skills so that they can transform their thinking on a moment’s notice to things greater than themselves. When we do, we will have given them the ability to become a hero.

Discussion

» In moments when you do not know what to do to deal with an overwhelming problem, where do you turn for strength, wisdom and calm? Who is a model of such a centered life?

» The comparison of Sullenberger to a computer seems unfair since there is no hesitation. However, the comparison is also unfair to the computer because human thought often acts on “insight” or “intuition.” What most influences your decision-making: Facts or intuition? Why do you trust what you trust?

» The passengers of Flight 1549 became lifelong admirers of Sullenberger as shown by the real-life moments during the credits. Have you had a life-altering experience that changed everything?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is the retired pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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