A beautifully wrought, touching and sensitive coming of age
tale set in small town America in 1957, October Sky is one of the most
satisfying and enjoyable films of this year.
This inspiring film is based on the true story of Homer
Hickham (played with great insight and charm by Jake Gyllenhaal, from
Homegrown, City Slickers, etc), who eventually became a NASA engineer.
Homer grew up in Coalwood, West Virginia, a company town centred
around the coal mining industry. Like his father, and most of his
friends, Homer seems destined to a life working in the pits. It seems
that the only way to break out of this grim, preordained cycle is to
win a football scholarship to an out of town college. Until the
Russians launch Sputnik, the first manned space rocket. As Homer
watches the space craft race across the night time sky, he is inspired
to become a rocket scientist.
With three school friends, including his best friends Roy Lee
(William Lee Scott) and O'Dell (Chad Lindberg) and the school geek
Quentin (Chris Owen, from American Pie), Homer begins experimenting
with rockets. Most people in town view this fool hardy activity with
scepticism, especially Homer's dad John (Chris Cooper, from Lone Star,
etc), the foreman of the mine. Only his sympathetic teacher Miss
Riley (Laura Dern) encourages Homer in his pursuit.
The beautifully written script from Lewis Colick draws a
symbolic contrast between Homer, who is looking forward to the future,
and his strong-willed father, who is still stuck in the past. John is
angered by Homer's decision to seek a life beyond the mines, and the
tense conflict between the pair threatens to tear the family apart.
The superb performances of Gyllenhaal and Cooper bring a solid
emotional punch to this estranged relationship.
October Sky is all about following your dream, and remaining
true to that ideal no matter what obstacles are put in the way. The
film's affirmative and inspiring message is backed up by some positive
values, strong writing, and wonderful performances from a solid cast.
Director Joe Johnston (Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, Jumanji, etc) eschews
the special effects and technical gimmickry of his previous films in
favour of some solid emotional and human drama.
If October Sky's finale doesn't leave you misty eyed then you've
got no heart or soul.
Copyright © 2000 Greg King