“It’s been a long time that New York had news this good, especially with an airplane in it.”
We toss around the word “hero” a lot, but often that word describes ordinary people just doing their jobs with extraordinary results. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger is one such person. On January 15, 2009, Sully was piloting a US Airways plane out of LaGuardia Airport when a flock of Canada Geese struck the Airbus A320. With both engines gone, Sully realized there was no hope of landing at either LaGuardia or Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. He made the decision to land the plane in the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 people on board.
Scenes of the water rescue dominated the airwaves and newspapers all over New York and, indeed, the world. The event was declared “The Miracle on the Hudson.” Sully was hailed a hero by the media and he and his team even appeared on The David Letterman Show. One New York tavern named a drink in his honor. “The Sully, Grey Goose with a splash of water,” the bartender tells him. It’s one lighthearted moment in Clint Eastwood’s taut, tense, and terrific film starring Tom Hanks as Sully.
While the public was celebrating a new hero, things were darker behind the scenes. (The film is based on Highest Duty by Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow.) The National Transportation Safety Board investigating the incident seemed determined to prove that Sully made the wrong decision. Facing the NTSB panel, Sully and his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), are told that computer simulations prove they had enough time to make it back to LaGuardia. The second engine still had thrust and would have supported the plane for the time it took to land on the ground, they say. “Not possible,” Sully tells them. Leaving the meeting, Sully tells Skiles, “I’ve delivered a million passengers over 40 years but in the end I’m going to be judged on 208 seconds.”
Not only would such a ruling by the NTSB turn the tide on public opinion, but would effectively end Sully’s career and cancel his pension. Sully has to stay in New York until the NTSB completes its investigation. While he wades through a sea of journalists whenever he leaves his hotel, his wife, Lorraine (Laura Linney), is essentially a prisoner in her home, the media camped out on her front lawn.
Sully maintains an authoritative presence in public, but in private he suffers flashbacks and has trouble sleeping. (In interviews, Sullenberger revealed that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder for several weeks following the accident.) In the film, Sully’s nightmares find the plane crashing into buildings, exploding in flames, scenes that are sure to remind many of 9/11. Battling those sleepless nights, Sully takes to running, one evening finding himself across from the Intrepid Museum, staring at a fighter plane that he once piloted and reliving another moment when he had to bring down a disabled plane. (Sullenberger graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy, holds a post graduate degree from Purdue, and was once a member of the Air Force’s aircraft accident investigation board.)
Hanks turns in a fine performance as Sullenberger, demonstrating a steely resolve while making what many would consider a foolhardy decision to land a jet on water. But he also allows us to see Sully behind the scenes, uncomfortable basking in the media’s glare while also having his decision second-guessed by government officials who have never flown a plane. Co-pilot Skiles (a great supporting performance by Eckhardt), never wavers in his support of Sully, even when confronted by the NTSB panel. For that government group, Eastwood has gathered actors who do unlikeable very, very well. Mike O’Malley, Jamey Sheridan, and Anna Gunn as the NTSB investigators seem less willing to discover the truth and more eager to bring Sully down, whatever the cost.
While those confrontations are fascinating, the center of the film is, of course, the miracle itself. Eastwood has recreated the entire event with such realism that we can feel the terror the passengers felt when Sully ordered, “Brace for impact!” Soon after landing, the passengers find themselves standing on the plane’s wings or huddled in one of the inflated slides. And while Sully managed the impossible by landing the plane, those passengers might have perished in the Hudson’s frigid waters if first responders had not made it to the scene so quickly, taking the terrified survivors onto boats, rescuing two who fell into the water, and getting them needed medical care.
When the credits role, we see photos from the actual rescue. We also see a Sully himself in a short video greeting the survivors during a reunion, the reconstructed plane in the background. As splendid as Hanks is in the role, there’s nothing like seeing the hero himself embracing the people he saved with his experience and skill.
The Miracle on the Hudson remains one of New York City’s finest moments. During a time when we desperately need heroes, Sully reminds us that they walk among us.
Sully opens nationwide September 9, 2016.
Photos courtesy of Warner Brothers.
Robin Weaver (top photo on left with Campbell Brown) dashes into the Women’s National Republican Club in a whirlwind – she’s allotted an hour for our breakfast interview prior to dashing to Brooklyn for her next appointment. Recently elected President, she’s on a mission to transform the Club by raising political awareness and making it a forum for debate and discussion. “Although our membership adheres to Republican principles, especially lower taxes and fiscal responsibility, we want to make it a welcome place for all. As a matter of fact, a number of my friends who are Democrats attend our events,” she notes. Her goal is to make the Club a place where everyone, Democrats and Republicans alike, feels comfortable, a go to spot for political and social events, and a destination for banquets and weddings. In office since May 2015, Robin already has made big strides, making the Club a mecca for New York men and women to exchange ideas, dine, and socialize.
The volunteer role of running any organization can be a thankless job—demanding time, energy, and the skills to manage the various personalities to get things done. Robin faces a big challenge—but her can-do attitude, fresh ideas, and attention to detail appear to be working.
Robin’s interest in politics was inspired by her father, now deceased, with whom she watched William F. Buckley’s Firing Line every week growing up in the Pittsburgh area. She joined the Young Republicans in high school, and her yearbook from that time attests to her involvement, sprinkled with comments from classmates acknowledging her extracurricular political activities. Her curiosity carried over to college (where she majored in political science and economics) and then law school, where she joined the Federalist Society, and now serves as Vice President of the New York Chapter. When she moved to New York City in the 1980s, Robin began attending social and political events at the WNRC, and became an official member four years ago. She also attended both political conventions in our city: the Democratic Convention, at which Bill Clinton received the nod, and the Republican one in 2004 at which George W. Bush was re-nominated.
In most cases, success in running an organization is measured by the numbers, and Robin’s gig is no different. Increasing its existing $5.5 million revenue is a primary objective, and she’s going full force with two initiatives: broadening membership and promoting its 3 West Club’s banquet and catering capabilities. “It’s also important that we tap into Republican organizations in the city, as Republicans are outnumbered by Democrats by about six to one. I have a special focus on young people, as they often bring innovative ideas that in the long term will help our Club flourish.”
The Club’s banquet facilities are impressive. Located on 51st Street, just a few steps west of Fifth Avenue, it boasts two ballrooms sizable enough to accommodate weddings, bar mitzvahs, and corporate events. Under Robin’s stewardship, banquet revenue is on the rise. The Club also has 27 prettily appointed rooms (including two suites) available both to members and non-members alike. Visitors would be hard pressed to find a better value: rates range from $140 to $220 per night, depending on the season. And its prime location, in the heart of the city’s prestigious shopping district, and within walking distance to the theatre, is an added attraction.
The Club’s pub and dining room, serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, and cocktails, are accessible to anyone with a credit card (and are a great value, with prices ranging from 15 percent to 20 percent lower than other private clubs). Robin plans to host social events on the 9th Floor’s solarium, which has a terrace, once warmer weather arrives.
She’s already attracted a stirring roster of Republican speakers, including Dana Perino, Peggy Noonan, Judith Miller, and Margaret Hoover. Judith will be honored on April 11 at the Club’s 95th Annual Awards Dinner, along with Jack Pritchard, the NYC Fire Department’s most highly decorated fire fighter. Other honorees at the dinner include Michael Mukasey, the country’s 81st Attorney General, as well as Congresswoman Martha McSally of Arizona (who was elected to the seat previously held by Gaby Gifford).
Among the Club’s members are Candy Straight, previously a Wall Street executive, whose film Equity starring Anna Gunn was previewed at the Sundance Film Festival and just sold to Sony Pictures; and Christine Todd Whitman, former New Jersey Governor and Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in the George W. Bush administration.
Alice LaBrie and Robin Weaver
An election cycle creates buzz, and Robin has cleverly capitalized on it by organizing a Debate Watch Party for each of the Republican debates. (Full disclosure: I’ve attended most of them, and they are colorful, fun-filled, and spirited). Our talk of the slate of presidential candidates quickly turns to Republicans whom she admires: Speaker Paul Ryan, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, and Maine Senator Susan Collins. She also includes four Congresswomen in her list: Virginia Foxx (North Carolina), Kathy McMorris Rogers (Washington), Elise Stefanik (New York, and the youngest woman ever to be elected to Congress), and the aforementioned Martha McSally.
Right on cue, our time is up, but Robin makes one final observation: “We’re committed to recruiting from a broad demographic of all ages, especially younger women, men who can serve as associate members, and as diverse a group as possible. Although male members can’t vote, nor serve on the Club Board, we want them to join and participate in our programs and events. It’s part of our plan to make the Club a welcome spot for all Republicans in New York.”