Posted on September 7, 2016 at 2:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some peril and brief strong language
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Acohol
Violence/ Scariness: Intense peril, dire and tense real-life situation, airplane near-crash
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 9, 2016
Date Released to DVD: December 19, 2016 ASIN: B01LBWHQRA
Copyright 2016 Warner Brothers
Copyright 2016 Warner Brothers

Pay attention to the numbers in “Sully,” the new movie from director Clint Eastwood, with Tom Hanks as “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who lost both engines and landed his plane safely on the Hudson River on January 15, 2009. 208 is the number of seconds that Sully and his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) had from the time two “bird strikes” took out both of the plane’s engines. 1549 was the number of the United flight, an Airbus A320-214 flying from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to a stopover at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. 155 is the number of people whose lives were saved by Sully’s quick thinking. And 17 — I will let you find out for yourself why that number matters in one of the film’s key turning points.

We know what happened. No one can forget those images of the passengers standing on the wings of the plane on the river in freezing weather. And 208 seconds, no matter how tense and exciting, is not enough for a film. Screenwriter Todd Komarnicki sets the film in the days after the “controlled ditching” (that is the technical term), as Sully and Skiles are lauded as heroes by the media and cross-examined with skepticism by the investigating authorities, overseen by the National Transportation Safety Board. The facts were improbable, even unimaginable. The panel chair (“Glee’s” Mike O’Malley) notes dryly that they have never before listened to the “black box” recording in the presence of the people on the tape. Everyone in the room knows that is because they were all dead. When asked about “the crash,” Skiles interrupts to correct the choice of words: “It was not a crash. It was a ditching, a forced water landing.”

Even Sully, following the intensity of the emergency landing and his concern for what he refers to as the “155 souls” on board, including the crew, is in something of a daze. He is peppered with questions: “When did you last have a drink? Are you having trouble at home?” He is interviewed by Katie Couric and appears with the crew on David Letterman’s show. And yet, he is facing a challenge every bit as daunting and far more complex than losing two engines at a low altitude. There is the relentless, often hostile, dissection of every one of those 208 seconds through an extensive government investigation and the media spotlight, reviewing every decision, every risk assessment, every protocol. Was that second engine really out? Could they have made it to a runway in New Jersey? The only questions tougher and more suspicious than those of the investigators are those Sully asks himself. He is numb from the trauma of the forced landing and especially from the excruciation hours until he was told that all 155 souls were safe.

The script from screenwriter Todd Komarnicki, based in part on Sullenberger’s book, is one of the most well-crafted, tightly constructed screenplays of the year, efficient in providing us the information we need without getting us lost in technical jargon, and making each return to the seconds of crucial decision-making more revealing and more compelling. Hanks, as always, is superb in conveying the ultimate of decency and integrity. And I promise, after this, when they recite the safety details at the beginning of your flight, you will listen.

Parents should know that this movie has extreme, intense peril with some disturbing images. Characters drink and use some strong language.

Family discussion: What experience and character qualities made it possible for Sully to think through his options so quickly and figure out a way to save everyone on board? Were any of the questions they were asked unfair?

If you like this, try: “Apollo 13” and “Captain Phillips,” two other fact-based films with Tom Hanks in charge of a vessel in trouble.

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Based on a true story Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week IMAX
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