He was one in Saving Private Ryan and again in high-seas thriller Captain Phillips.
But his performance in Sully as airline pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who in 2009 landed his stricken Airbus on New York’s Hudson River with a death toll of zero, just might be Hanks’ best captain yet.
That’s because his performance helps elevate a film that is part transport disaster flick, part courtroom procedural (the crash is investigated by sceptical authorities challenging the decision not to head to a nearby airport) into something better than the sum of its parts.
Hanks helps turn the mild-mannered Sully into someone who gets more intriguing as the movie rolls on, re-creating the flight in increasingly gripping detail.
He may have been just another highly experienced, unflappable pilot who made the right decision when both his plane’s engines were disabled in a bird strike.
But ageing up for the role, Hanks gives the mild-mannered character - and the movie, a real heartbeat.
It’s quite a pulse-quickening exercise throughout. Right from the opening, which puts you inside the cabin of US Airways Flight 1549 with its 150 passengers, an early sign that director Clint Eastwood has put aside his usual pedestrian pacing and isn’t just going to make this a blow-by-blow account of the crash dubbed “the Miracle on the Hudson”.
Eastwood, of course, likes his American heroes. And as in Flags of our Fathers and American Sniper, he’s interested in what happens to those heroes are forced into the limelight.
Sully and his crew are duly trotted out for the talk shows post-crash, because as one guy says “it’s been a while since New York had news this good, especially with a plane in it”.
The movie’s structure takes some risks too, maybe playing the dream sequence or traumatic flashback cards one times too many. And some suspension of disbelief is required when it comes to just how fast Sully and co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) are dragged before the National Transportation Safety Board public hearings - and how quickly they are vindicated by the evidence.
But the hearings do allow Sully to become something other than an extended dramatised Air Crash Investigation episode and adroitly explain the making of that miracle and the man behind it.
Fittingly for a flight that only lasted a couple of minutes, the movie is a taut hour and a half.
It’s one for fans of the good captain Hanks and a must-see for devotees of Microsoft Flight Simulator.
And it just might be the first plane-crash movie that suggests itself as suitable in-flight entertainment, too.
- TimeOut/NZ Herald