And according to some reviews of the film, it indeed depicts the federal investigators in the skeptical, adversarial light previewed by the trailer.

“The only way Eastwood can think of to surprise us is by making up stuff that didn’t happen and then lodging it in Sully’s nightmares,” wrote The Atlantic’s Christopher Orr, who dubs Sully a “straw movie” for manufacturing a villain out of the NTSB for the sake of dramatic tension.

Knocking the film for creating an artificial villain, from a film criticism standpoint, is one thing. But what of the ethics of that decision? Is it okay to heighten the drama in order to make a more compelling movie? What if it damages the reputation of those involved?

Sully himself has argued that the film rightly communicates how he felt at the time, under intense media and bureaucratic scrutiny. He told the New York Times that the investigation was “inherently adversarial, with professional reputations absolutely in the balance.”

Allyn Stewart, one of the film’s producers, told the New York Times that the film is not meant to be a documentary, and argued that it tells a truthful story through the eyes of Sullenberger and Skiles.

This problem is unique to a growing subset of films that are based on real-life events of the recent past. Because this aviation accident occurred only seven years ago, it’s still relatively fresh in the minds of those who lived through it—including the NTSB investigators.

Ultimately, Sully looks to be a movie about bureaucracy, with one heroic action sequence shown at the beginning to set the table. Unless your audience is entirely made up of aviation buffs, there’s no way to make a routine government inquiry into a non-lethal accident entertaining without somehow ratcheting up the tension.

The NTSB investigators who feel they’ve been wronged by Hollywood’s need to entertain seem to have valid complaints, but that does not mean directors should stop making films based on true events.

Perhaps they should just pick more interesting stories to tell.

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