Tom Hanks, Clint Eastwood’s ‘Sully’: The making of a miracle

The Miracle on the Hudson, in which Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger famously saved a plane of 155 passengers with an improbable landing on the river on Jan. 15, 2009, stands as a true human triumph.

And of course, whenever anyone defies the odds like that, Hollywood takes notice.

Still, Aaron Eckhart points out a key question that loomed over the production of “Sully,” the new film directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Tom Hanks, opening in theaters Friday, in which Eckhart plays co-pilot Jeff Skiles: “How?”

As in, how do you turn an event that spanned in total less than four minutes, from the time bird strikes took out the engines of the U.S. Airways Airbus A320-200 to the successful water landing, into an effective feature film?

“[Clint’s] thing when he got the script, or heard about the script, was, ‘Well, how are you going to make a feature film out of this?,’” Eckhart says.

“So the way he did it was, he felt like you ought to get in there and have a subjective look instead of the objective, the documentary look, at what’s going on in Sully’s head and the what-ifs and that sort of thing. It turns out that the trauma that’s caused by the incident is as compelling, almost, as the incident itself.”

While the movie offers a spectacular reconstruction of the harrowing flight that rivals the best sequences of disaster movies past, it really is a psychological study of men beset by doubt amid the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation of the incident.

“Skiles told me he questioned himself. He doubted himself. He wondered if everyone was looking at him the wrong way, or if he was responsible for this,” Eckhart says.

The NTSB investigation ultimately determined that Sullenberger and Skiles took the only course of action possible given the loss of thrust in their engines.

So what’s left, then, is a story of unmitigated heroism, an unfathomable life-saving incident involving a commercial airplane, just miles from the World Trade Center.

“There are high-rises, apartment buildings, there’s the West Side Highway, there’s New Jersey,” Eckhart says. “The consequences of an error here are catastrophic. Let’s not even forget about 9/11 and what that means to New York City. So, when you boil it all down, I don’t know if it’s an act of God or just training or what, but this thing was amazing.”

Perhaps the best way to think about the story of Sully and his miracle, then, is just to be thankful; thankful for a little bit of good and uplifting news in a world that can often seem to be comprised of nothing but depressing horrors.

“This is an American story, that’s the way I look at it,” Eckhart says. “This was for everybody.”