“Over 40 years in the air, but in the end I’m going to be judged on 208 seconds,” Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (as played by Tom Hanks) forlornly says after he’s praised for pulling off the “Miracle on the Hudson.”
Most viewers will remember the real-life January 2009 incident in which a U.S. Airways flight piloted by Sullenberger was struck by a flock of birds shortly after taking off from New York’s La Guardia Airport and forced to make a dangerous emergency landing on the Hudson River. All 155 passengers and crew aboard survived.
In director Clint Eastwood’s new film, we see the immediate aftermath of that day. Sullenberger finds himself simultaneously celebrated on national television for his actions while facing a withering interrogation by National Transportation Safety Board investigators who question whether he made the right call in not attempting to return his damaged plane to the airport rather than putting the aircraft down in the water.
When Sully brings up those 208 seconds, he seems as uncomfortable with the notion that he’ll be declared a hero for what he did as he is concerned that the NTSB will rule that he made a mistake and thus end his career. It raises a question worth consideration: Is it right that any of us be judged solely for what we’ve done when at our absolute best or our absolute worst? Doesn’t either possibility devalue all the rest of a person’s accomplishments?
Eastwood and Hanks together have crafted a subtly brilliant portrait of a reluctant hero, a man who repeatedly insists that he was just doing his job.